Digging in

Tennessee’s two largest districts defy state order to share student info with charters

PHOTO: Marta W. Aldrich
The board of education for Shelby County Schools is reviewing another contract with a Memphis firm hired last year to look into allegations of grade tampering at Trezevant High School. Board members will discuss the new contract Feb. 20 and vote on it Feb. 27.

Elected school leaders in Memphis and Nashville are digging in their heels against a state order to release public information about their students to state-run charter schools.

Shelby County’s school board agreed Tuesday night to defy the order, a day after the chairwoman of Nashville’s school board sent a letter to Education Commissioner Candice McQueen indicating that her district would do the same.

Meanwhile, McQueen said she would request the state attorney general’s opinion on the matter.

At issue is student directory information, including names, phone numbers, addresses and emails. Charter operators say they have a right to the lists under the state’s new charter school law, but local districts don’t want to share the information so they can retain their students.

Here’s what parents should know about how schools share student information.

In her letter to McQueen, Anna Shepherd said Nashville’s board has no problem with sharing information for students already enrolled in state-run charter schools. She took issue, however, with operators who use the information to recruit students now zoned to the district’s low-performing schools.

Shelby County leaders concurred, saying that using student information for recruitment goes against the intent of the state law. The Memphis board also authorized its legal team to submit its argument in writing if Nashville’s board opts to file a lawsuit over the issue.

Both boards cite a committee discussion in February when state lawmakers were asking questions about the charter school bill as it made its way through the legislature. Rep. John Forgety of Athens said the information could not be used as a “recruiting tool,” and Chuck Cagle, an attorney for the state’s superintendents group, agreed. No one disputed their statements.

However, the final bill that passed excluded language that prohibits using the information to market to students, even as the law prohibits charter schools from sharing the information with anyone else.

Several lawmakers are now siding with the school boards. Earlier Tuesday, McQueen spoke with six Nashville-area legislators in a conference call organized by Rep. John Clemmons. He said later that McQueen held steady on her stance. He also expressed hope that she will not withhold funding from districts for their positions.

Nashville’s board voted last week to withhold student directory information after McQueen ordered Superintendent Dorsey Hopson to share the lists with state-run schools in Memphis. Nashville Superintendent Shawn Joseph also received a copy of McQueen’s order.

Hopson’s administration has cited federal student privacy laws for its decision to withhold the information.

Shepherd’s letter on Monday cited an untested federal rule that allows school districts to limit who can obtain student directory information and why. That rule, amended in 2011, contradicts public record laws but has yet to be challenged in court, said Frank LoMonte, a First Amendment lawyer and director of The Brechner Center at the University of Florida.

“The way state open-records laws work is, either a record is confidential under federal law or it isn’t,” said LoMonte.

Below is the resolution from Shelby County Schools and Shepherd’s letter to McQueen.

meet the candidates

These candidates are running for Detroit school board. Watch them introduce themselves.

Nine candidates are vying for two seats on Detroit's school board in November. Seven submitted photos.

One candidate tells of a childhood in a house without heat.

Another describes the two-hour commute he made to high school every day to build a future that would one day enable him to give back to Detroit.

A third says her work as a student activist inspired her to run for school board as a recent high school grad.

These candidates are among nine people vying for two seats up for grabs on Detroit’s seven-member school board on Nov. 6. That includes one incumbent and many graduates of the district.

Chalkbeat is partnering with Citizen Detroit to present a school board candidate forum Thursday, Sept. 20 from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., at IBEW Local 58, 1358 Abbott St., Detroit.

Participants will have the opportunity to meet each candidate and ask questions in a speed-dating format.

In anticipation of that event, Citizen Detroit invited each of the candidates to make a short video introducing themselves to voters. Seven candidates made videos.

Watch them here:

School safety

Report lists litany of failings over police in Chicago schools

PHOTO: Scott Olson/Getty Images
Police officers stand alongside Lake Shore Drive in August as protesters decry violence and lack of investment in African-American neighborhoods and schools

The Chicago Police Department doesn’t adequately screen and train the officers it assigns to Chicago Public Schools, and their roles in schools are poorly defined, according to a sharply critical report released today by the Office of Inspector General Joseph Ferguson.

The report lists a litany of failings, including basic administration: There is no current agreement between the police department and the district governing the deployment of school resource officers, or SROs, and neither the schools nor the police even have a current list of the officers working in schools this year.

The inspector general’s report also mentions several sets of SRO resources and best practices created and endorsed by the federal government, then notes that Chicago hasn’t adopted any of them. “CPD’s current lack of guidance and structure for SROs amplifies community concerns and underscores the high probability that students are unnecessarily becoming involved in the criminal justice system, despite the availability of alternate solutions,” says the report.

Chalkbeat reported in August about incidents in which SROs used batons and tasers on students while intervening in routine disciplinary matters.

Scrutiny of SROs is nothing new, and is part of the broader CPD consent decree brokered this week between Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. That agreement calls for better training and vetting of SROs, as well as a clearer delineation of their roles on campuses—including a prohibition against participating in routine school discipline — beginning with the 2019-20 school year.

Read more: How the police consent decree could impact Chicago schools

But the report from Ferguson’s office says that the consent decree doesn’t go far enough. It chastises police for not pledging to include the community in the creation of its agreement with the school district, nor in the establishment of hiring guidelines; and for not creating a plan for evaluating SROs’ performance, among other recommendations. In addition, the report criticizes the police department for delaying the reforms until the 2019-20 school year. A draft of the inspector general’s report was given to the police department in early August in hopes that some of the issues could be resolved in time for the school year that began last week. The police department asked for an extension for its reply.