Denver schools will tweak “do not rehire” practice

About 80 Denver teachers recently placed on a permanent “do not rehire” list may have a shot at returning to the district one day.StockDPSLogo92511

That’s because the Denver school board voted unanimously Monday to urge district staff to tweak a policy that board members described as unfair or egregious. The motion calls for staff to come back with a policy within 30 days that changes the “do not rehire” practice so it will no longer be permanent — except in the case of “serious limited circumstances” — and outlines reasons for placement on the list.

Staff will explore the amount of time the “do not rehire” recommendation would be in place, including a sliding scale depending on the employee’s professional history.

“I would never support a ban for life when it comes to this particular piece, unless there was a clear reason for having a ban for life on a rehire,” board member Landri Taylor said, citing examples such as criminal actions against children or adults, or embezzlement.

However, the board did not reconsider any of the specific teachers whose contracts were not renewed. In fact, the board voted 5-2 in favor of the list of 220 non-renewals. Board members Jeannie Kaplan and Arturo Jimenez voted against the non-renewals. Board members Mary Seawell, Anne Rowe and Happy Haynes pointed out that — after reviewing the employee files in detail — they believe the district followed its policies and procedures in making the decisions.

“These are based on multiple observations,” board member Rowe said. “It’s not a single principal making a decision and I don’t think it should be…. Can we improve? You bet we can.”

Presently, probationary teachers whose contracts are not renewed for a variety of reasons can be placed on the list. One teacher who testified before the school board last week said he didn’t even know he was blacklisted until he was informed by a Denver principal who wanted to interview him but said he couldn’t. The teacher taught in Jeffco for a few years before seeking to return to Denver Public Schools.

District administrators base the decision of whether to renew probationary teacher contracts on a “body of evidence,” including observation through LEAP (Denver’s teacher evaluation program), student achievement data, and interactions with colleagues and other team members.

Last week, the annual rite became a public show and organized union protest resulting in a 10-hour board meeting filled with emotional stories from teachers who testified about losing their jobs or being placed on the “do not rehire” list.

The board last week voted to delay a decision on the non-renewals so they could look more closely at individual teacher employment files.

There was a kerfuffle at the beginning of the meeting Monday when board members Andrea Merida, Arturo Jimenez and Jeannie Kaplan wanted to go into closed session to discuss individual cases. The board majority kept the focus on policy and blocked the push for a closed meeting.

Merida also did her share of fist pounding (literally) over a lack of adequate time for the board to review the employee files. She said she got the official list from district staff on May 10, and the board was scheduled to vote six days later.

Merida also said she’d like to see an appeals process for teachers whose contracts are not renewed. Seawell, though, said she would not support that because she feared it would undo all the work DPS has done to prepare for the rollout of Senate Bill 10-191, the so-called teacher effectiveness law.

Merida also pushed her colleagues to give district administrators more direction on how much the LEAP teacher evaluation system should play into these decisions.

“There are cases here in which you have teachers with very strong student growth and performance, but for whom subjective reasons were used for making the non-renewal decision,” Merida 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.