Student Voice

Students stage ‘die-ins’ after indictment decision in Eric Garner case

PHOTO: Courtesy of Shania Santana
Students at Harvest Collegiate High School stage a demonstration at the school to protest the indictment decision over Eric Garner's death.

History teacher Jeremy Copeland was getting ready for the day at School of the Future on Thursday morning when he peered out of his classroom and saw new signs decorating the hallways reading “#blacklivesmatter” and “Hands Up Don’t Shoot.”

Soon, students were lying on the hallway floor, a form of protest called a “die-in” that has spread in the wake of two separate grand jury decisions not to indict police officers for the deaths of unarmed black men, including Eric Garner, of Staten Island. Wednesday’s news that Garner’s death, caused by an officer’s chokehold, would not be ruled a crime touched off a new round of protests citywide and had school leaders preparing for a day of uncertainty and discussion.

At School of the Future, the student-led protests were welcomed, Copeland said.

“To see this group of white kids chant ‘black lives matter’ was probably one of the most powerful moments in my 16-year career,” said Copeland, who is black.

Jeremy Copeland, a history teacher at School of the Future, says he welcomed the student-led protest that  took place at his school on the day after the indictment decision over Eric Garner's death was handed down.
Jeremy Copeland, a history teacher at School of the Future, says he welcomed the student-led protest that took place at his school on the day after the indictment decision over Eric Garner’s death was handed down.

School of the Future, a middle and high school with roughly the same number of black and Hispanic students as white students, was not the only school that became a site of activism. A group of 60 people, including some teachers, assembled in a lobby at Harvest Collegiate High School during fifth period for their own “die-in.” Teachers at Dewitt Clinton High School and East Side Community School also tackled the issue, according to SchoolBook.

School officials anticipated that the decision could lead to disruptions. Earlier this week, hundreds of high school students left in the middle of the day to attend a protest in Union Square Park.

On Wednesday, Chancellor Carmen Fariña suggested to principals that they host assemblies and prepare guidance counselors to talk to distressed students, while teachers union President Michael Mulgrew advised that teachers and staff be ready respond to “legitimate questions and strong emotions” about the events.

As school let out on Wednesday afternoon, Harvest Collegiate students were warned to stay away from nearby Union Square, where a large protest was being planned. Later that night, news footage from a die-in at Grand Central Station gave a trio of juniors the idea to organize something similar in their school the next day.

“I feel like a problem in our society is that people are really apathetic about things and I just really wanted to get people my age and my peers to get more involved,” student organizer Shania Santana said.

For Copeland, Thursday was rife with opportunities to make civics relevant. He devoted his U.S. History and Government classes to the Garner case and later took some his students to Union Square.

No protests were going on while they were there, but the field trip was enough to unnerve his school’s principal, who received a call from her superintendent raising safety concerns, Copeland said.

“The point was to see democracy in action, to bring to life some of texts the kids are reading in class,” Copeland said.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.