contingency plans

Schools will be closed Tuesday, and Regents exams moved to later this week

A scene from a snowy day in 2014 .

The city’s schools will be closed Tuesday as a massive snow storm closes in on the city, and that day’s Regents exams will be moved to later this week, Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a news conference Monday.

The global history and Algebra Regents exams and two special-education tests scheduled for Tuesday will instead be given on Thursday afternoon, Chancellor Carmen Fariña said at the briefing. Schools were also given permission to administer Monday afternoon’s Regents exams early so that students and staff could get home, she said. The city had earlier called off all after-school activities Monday.

The city’s move to reschedule the Regents exams followed the highly unusual decision by the state earlier in the day to allow districts to postpone the tests. In the past, the state education department has barred districts that close schools due to weather emergencies on scheduled Regents dates from giving the tests at different times as a way to prevent cheating.

The Regents exams, which high school students must pass in order to graduate, began Monday and were scheduled to finish Thursday morning. Regents tests are also offered in June and August, but this month is the second-to-last chance that students have to take the Algebra exam before it is permanently replaced by one aligned to the new Common Core standards. Fewer students sit for the Regents exams in January than in the later months, but it offers those unable to pass the tests in the past a chance to try again.

Last January, the state did not allow some upstate districts that cancelled the Regents exams due to cold weather to reschedule them, explaining it would be too costly to create makeup tests. When New York City schools cancelled the Regents exams because of snow in 2011 and 2004, the state did not permit the city to reschedule them but did let students use passing course grades to earn a less rigorous diploma.

On Monday morning, State Education Department Deputy Commissioner Ken Wagner sent a memo to school districts saying that more than half of students statewide are expected to miss one or more days of school due to the storm, adding that local officials should, “close school if you need to close school.” He instructed them to tell the department which exams had to be cancelled and what their plans are “to ensure the security of exams and scoring materials” while they wait to reschedule them.

“We will work together to ensure that this historic and extraordinary situation is navigated in a way that keeps us all safe, is fair to students, and trusts our school and district leaders to preserve the integrity of the Regents Exam program,” Wagner wrote.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo held a news conference in New York City at noon Monday, where he declared a state of emergency in several downstate counties, including New York City.

“This is not a storm to take lightly,” he said, adding that the city’s subway system will reduce service after 7 p.m.

 The full state memo is below. We’ll continue to update this story throughout the day as more information becomes available.

Colleagues,

As you know, New York State will be affected by an historic snow storm over the next few days. We are seeing reports that well over half of our students from Montauk to Utica will be affected by one or more days of school closures during the administration of the January Regents Exams.

In addition, Tuesday is one of the final administrations of the Integrated Algebra Regents Exam, which, as you know, is a graduation requirement and an exam being phased out as part of our assessment transition.
Therefore, the Department will make the following one-time adjustment in reaction to this historic, extraordinary, and widespread confluence of events.

First and most important – be safe during the storm. Close school if you need to close school.

When the storm has passed, each school superintendent, charter school leader, and nonpublic school principal in a district or school impacted by weather-related closures must send to the Department at emscassessinfo@nysed.gov a description of the date(s) on which schools were closed due to weather, which January Regents Exams had to be canceled, when you plan to administer the tests, and your comprehensive plan to ensure the security of exams and scoring materials during this time period.

Please observe the following constraints when submitting your plan

+All exams should be administered as close as possible to the original administration window.

+All January Regents Exams must be administered by Friday, January 30, 2015.

+Although scoring materials will be available according to the previously posted schedule, you may not access or distribute these scoring materials until all exams have been administered in your school.

+Regents Exam booklets should be kept secure until 5 pm on Friday, January 30.

We will work together to ensure that this historic and extraordinary situation is navigated in a way that keeps us all safe, is fair to students, and trusts our school and district leaders to preserve the integrity of the Regents Exam program.

If you have any questions, please contact our team at emscassessinfo@nysed.gov or 518-474-5902.

Ken

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.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede