the safety dance

Spike in weapons seized in schools, pro-charter group reports

PHOTO: Patrick Wall

A pro-charter advocacy group is continuing to argue that the city’s schools have grown markedly less safe under Mayor Bill de Blasio, this time by revealing police data Friday that shows the number of weapons confiscated in schools jumped last year.

The report by Families for Excellent Schools, a staunch foe of the de Blasio administration, follow two separate incidents where students brought guns to city schools this week. The attention to school safety comes as the mayor tries to revamp the city’s school-discipline policies.

The data, which the city did not dispute, shows that the police recovered 1,678 weapons in the 2014-15 school year, an increase of 170 weapons from the previous year. (That included a significant spike in taser and stun gun recoveries.) The number of recovered weapons has been fluctuating since 2010 with the least weapons found in 2014, according to the data.

As part of its reevaluation of the city’s school discipline and safety policies, the de Blasio administration is looking into removing metal detectors from some schools. The increase in weapons could make it harder for the city to make the case for removal.

Education department officials said they work in close partnership with the city’s police department to swiftly address safety incidents.

“Schools must be safe havens for students, staff and families and there is absolutely zero-tolerance for any weapons in schools,” said department spokeswoman Toya Holness.

In two different incidents this week, students were caught with loaded guns in schools. In the first, a fifth-grader brought a gun to his Queens elementary school. Two days later, a 15-year-old carried a gun into a nearby high school. Neither school has a metal detector.

Meanwhile, the mayor and Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña continue to push forward with discipline reforms.

This fall, de Blasio released a “roadmap” for changing school discipline that calls for the police department to determine where metal detectors can be eliminated or scaled back. Earlier this week at a city council hearing, Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña said the city is still reviewing the use of metal detectors at some schools, and will make a decision by September.

Some advocates argue that the metal detectors are demoralizing to students of color, who are disproportionately subjected to them. Nearly half of all black high school students pass through metal detectors, compared with just 14 percent of white students, according to a recent WNYC analysis.

But many educators and parents argue that metal detectors are necessary to prevent dangerous weapons from entering schools.

The FES report could add fuel the second argument, and is designed to stoke concerns that de Blasio’s attempt to overhaul school discipline will jeopardize students’ safety.

“Mayor de Blasio’s refusal to confront the epidemic of violence in our schools is putting families across the city at risk,” said Jeremiah Kittredge, Chief Executive Officer of Families for Excellent Schools.

In a report that FES released in February, the group argued that state safety data shows that school safety incidents have increased under de Blasio. The group also paid for a series of television ads based on the data claiming that almost every public school child is exposed to school violence.

However, the city cited a different set of data that showed incidents has decreased. And the state education department quickly flagged the numbers highlighted by FES, saying the metric they are based on is problematic and under review.

United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew, de Blasio’s close ally who often trades fires with pro-charter groups, blasted FES in an op-ed Friday for using those statistics. In particular, he attacked the group for ignoring another trend that he said the data shows: that safety incidents increased more quickly from 2014 to 2015 in charter schools than district schools.

“If in fact the state numbers are not reliable,” he wrote in the New York Daily News, “then we are seeing yet another instance of charter advocates looking only at the numbers they want to see.”

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

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

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”