access denied

How often do New York City schools bar parents from entering? The city could soon be forced to say.

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Councilman Ritchie Torres

The education department would be forced to disclose how often schools restrict parents from their campuses each year, under a bill that the New York City Council is considering.

The bill, which City Councilman Ritchie Torres introduced on Wednesday, would track a little-known practice that lawmakers say is ripe for abuse: the issuance of “limited-access letters.”

Those letters act like restraining orders and can restrict parents’ rights to enter their child’s school building. School officials can issue them when they feel that a parent poses a threat to the community.

But advocates worry the letters are used disproportionately in low-income communities, and they argue there are no clear guidelines or oversight that governs how they are handed out.

Education officials do not keep track of how often the letters are issued, nor could they produce an official policy that explains how school personnel should use them, despite multiple requests.

“You have parents who effectively have their access to a school restricted without any due process or judicial review,” Torres said. “The process of issuing limited access letters is shrouded in secrecy.”

The bill Torres introduced would require that the education department release annual reports that show how many limited access letters have been issued, as well as the demographics of families who receive them. The bill does not currently require the city to disclose how often individual schools bar parents from campus, though Torres said he planned to amend it to include that information.

The proposed law would also force the education department to publicly post its policies on limited access letters, including how parents can appeal them. (A department spokeswoman did not respond to questions about whether there is currently an appeals process.)

Stephanie Thompson, who is a member of the elected parent council for Manhattan’s District 1, told DNAinfo in 2016 that she has received limited access letters for complaining about a principal and criticizing a superintendent. “When you say stuff as a white man, you’re seen as expressing yourself,” she said. “You’re passionate. You’re smart and challenging. Whenever I do anything, I’m seen as an angry black woman and aggressive.”

Torres said he hopes the legislation will encourage school officials to limit the use of limited access letters. “I’m convinced that the DOE is going to be more parsimonious in the use of these letters under the light of public accountability,” he said.

In a statement, education department spokeswoman Miranda Barbot said: “We have protocols in place to ensure we are providing safe learning environments for all students and staff, and this includes the issuance of limited access letters when necessary.”

She added that the letters “do not prohibit parents from accessing their child’s school” but that parents “must follow certain protocols and procedures that are outlined out in the letter.” She would not elaborate on exactly how the letters are used. The education department, Barbot added, is reviewing Torres’ bill.

#GovTest

Where Bruce Rauner and J.B. Pritzker stand on key education issues, from charters to Chicago’s school board

PHOTO: (Rauner) Alex Wong/Staff/Getty Images; (Pritzker) Joshua Lott/Getty Images
Our conversations with Gov. Bruce Rauner (left) and challenger J.B. Pritzker will be aired on Oct. 3 on WBEZ 91.5 FM.

The race for Illinois governor is shaping up to be one of the most expensive in U.S. history, and anyone who hasn’t been living under a rock has probably seen or heard one of the barrage of ads for the candidates. There have been puppies, toilets, and plenty of barbs over wealth and taxes — and the back-and-forth has drowned out the discussion over where the candidates stand on education, arguably one of the most crucial policy areas facing the state.

To dig deeper, Chalkbeat Chicago is teaming up with the education team at WBEZ 91.5 Chicago for a WBEZ/Chalkbeat 2018 Election Special: Testing the Candidates. Republican incumbent Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democratic candidate J.B. Pritzker each have agreed to join us for a conversation about where they stand on everything from boosting the state’s profile in early childhood education to stemming the exodus of undergraduates from Illinois.

The interviews will be separate, but will be broadcast back-to-back on WBEZ 91.5 FM on Oct. 3 starting at 8 a.m.  

In advance of the discussion, Chalkbeat and WBEZ asked each candidate for his position on five questions, and we’ve reprinted their answers in their entirety. We’re also soliciting interview suggestions from our readers and listeners. Use this form to submit a question to us, and follow along with the discussion on Oct. 3 using #GovTest.

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What would you ask Gov. Bruce Rauner and J.B. Pritzker about education?

Chalkbeat Chicago is teaming up with the education team at WBEZ 91.5 Chicago for a WBEZ/Chalkbeat 2018 Election Special: Testing the Candidates. Republican incumbent Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democratic candidate J.B. Pritzker each have agreed to join us for a conversation about where they stand on everything from boosting the state’s profile in early childhood education to stemming the exodus of undergraduates from Illinois.

Use the form below to submit questions for the conversations, which will air back-to-back on Oct. 3 at 8 a.m.