Future of Schools

Flexibility for charters could change enrollment rules

Since the 2002 advent of charter schools in Indiana, deciding who can enroll when there weren’t enough seats has been done by a random lottery. Nobody gets to jump ahead to the front of the line.

But that could change under a bill approved by the Senate Education Committee Wednesday.

Under Senate Bill 321, kids who apply to a charter school, and their siblings, would be enrolled ahead of the lottery if they came from another charter school run by the same organization. Proponents say it guarantees charter schools don’t end up out in the cold when they switch schools and helps keep families together.

Marcus Robinson, CEO of Tindley Accelerated Schools, said the change is needed so kids who grow up in Tindley schools aren’t forced out as they age. Tindley operates an elementary school, two middle schools and a high school.

What happens, he said, to a student who finishes eighth grade at one Tindley school and wants to stay with his classmates as they move to Tindley’s high school?

“Our eighth graders cannot count on being seated in our ninth grade,” he said. “We are looking for an opportunity to say to those parents, ‘you will be able to continue a Tindley education in the fall if you so wish.’ ”

But Sen. Greg Taylor, R-Indianapolis, said he was surprised the bill appeared ready to simply dispense a section of the charter law designed to ensure fairness and transparency.

“Now we eliminate the lottery system?” he asked. “We’re making all these exceptions for charter schools. What about for public schools?”

Senate Bill 321 is mostly aimed at offering funding flexibility to networks of charter schools. It would allow a network to act in a role similar to a school district, with the ability to shift funds among schools and manage the money in one set of accounts. Under current law, each individual charter school is treated as the equivalent of a small school district, requiring separate accounts and prohibiting co-mingling of funds.

But also tucked in the bill is some enrollment flexibility.

The bill doesn’t eliminate lotteries and would keep the process open to public view. Many charter schools make their lotteries public, or videotape them to assure anyone with questions they were conducted fairly. But giving preference would still be a first for Indiana.

David Harris, CEO of the Indianapolis-based school reform group The Mind Trust, recalls attending many charter school lotteries when he oversaw former Mayor Bart Peterson’s charter school office. The whole idea is to ensure nobody gets an unfair advantage.

“They need to be public,” he said. “They need to be transparent. It needs to be a process that ensures 100 percent equity of access.”

But Harris is OK with the proposed change, saying it makes sense for the students who have been in a charter school network and their families. The bill should not be a major impediment to equal access to popular schools, he said.

“You want to make sure there is fair access to schools in the first place,” he said. “Equity of access is important. But you have that going into kindergarten. Their ability to stay within the network to graduation seems like exactly the right thing to do. It’s the right thing for families.”

Mark Russell, education director for the Indianapolis Urban League, said he had not yet seen the bill, but thought the change could bring problems. The bill might need more discussion, he said. He likened the enrollment preferences in the bill to a practice that some colleges use to make it easier for children of alumni, sometimes called ‘legacies,’ to enroll.

“It’s very troubling on its face,” he said. “I do not like the idea of having ‘legacy admissions’ in public schools. They are, after all, public schools.”

Taylor also asked at Wednesday’s hearing for assurances that charter schools would not be given flexibility beyond what is allowed at other public schools that use lotteries, such as magnet schools.

Magnet schools usually have a specialized instruction, such as Montessori curriculum or a classes in medicine. In Indianapolis Public Schools, most magnets are not selective in admission. Anyone can enroll if there is space. But IPS holds lotteries at its most popular magnet schools when there are more applicants than seats.

Like the proposal in the charter school bill, IPS offers priority to its own students.

Because Indiana allows students to transfer between school districts, magnet schools sometimes have applicants who don’t live in the district. They are allowed to attend IPS magnets, but only if there is extra space, said Rocky Grismore, the district’s student assignment director.

“As long as we have a waiting list of IPS kids we don’t seat out-of-district students through a lottery,” he said.

That’s what charter schools say they want, too, and their advocates say it’s only fair.

Derek Redelman, vice president of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, said he wants for charters the same option he had as boy, when he attended IPS. When he was in middle school, he didn’t have to go through a lottery for the chance to follow his classmates to the same high school.

“I (didn’t) have to wonder throughout my middle school years if I will get to continue with that program,” he said.

But for students vying to enter the system from outside — whether it’s an IPS magnet school or one of the Tindley schools — the state mandates open enrollment as long as there is space.

“And if enrollment is maxed out when the student initially enters, then they’d have to apply through a lottery process,” he said. “So the open enrollment and lottery systems are still in place.”


A student is in custody after Noblesville West Middle School shooting that injured another student and teacher

Police asses the scene outside Noblesville High School after a shooting at Noblesville West Middle School on May 25, 2018 (Photo by Kevin Moloney/Getty Images)

A male student shot and injured a teacher and another student at Noblesville West Middle School on Friday morning, police said.

Noblesville police Chief Kevin Jowitt said the shooting suspect asked to leave a class and returned armed with two handguns. The suspect, who police said appeared to be uninjured, is in custody and has not been identified by police.

The teacher, 29-year-old Jason Seaman, was in “good” condition Friday evening at Indiana University Health Methodist Hospital, police said. The female student, who was not identified by police, was in critical condition at Riley Hospital for Children.

News outlets were reporting that Seaman intervened to stop the shooter, but authorities said they could not confirm that on Friday afternoon.

The Noblesville Police Department has a full-time school resource officer assigned to the school who responded to the incident, Jowitt said. Local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies also responded to the shooting.

“We do know that the situation resolved extremely quickly,” Jowitt said. “We don’t know what happened in the classroom, so I can’t make any kinds of comments about what [the resource officer’s] involvement was.”

Students were evacuated to Noblesville High School on Friday morning, where families met them.

Jowitt said an additional threat was made at the high school, but they had “no reason to believe it’s anything other than a communicated threat.”

Police continue to investigate. They said they do not believe there are additional suspects. Noblesville Police spokesman Bruce Barnes could not say how the student acquired the guns, but he said search warrants have been issued.

Noblesville West Middle School enrolls about 1,300 students. Noblesville is a suburb of Indianapolis, about 20 miles north in Hamilton County. The district has about 10,500 students.

The frenzied scenes Friday outside the school have become sadly familiar. Already, there have been 23 school shootings in 2018 that involved someone being injured or killed, according to media tallies.

Just last week, 10 people were killed and 13 others were injured in a shooting at Santa Fe High School outside Houston. A student at the school has been arrested and charged.

In February, 17 people — 14 students and three staff — were shot and killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and a 19-year-old faces multiple charges.  The Parkland tragedy set off a wave of student activism across the country — including in Indianapolis — calling for stricter gun control.

“We’ve had these shootings around the country,” said Noblesville Mayor John Ditslear. “You just never think it could happen in Noblesville, Indiana. But it did.”

Noblesville Schools Superintendent Beth Niedermeyer praised the “heroic” efforts of school staff and students, saying they followed their training on how to react to an active shooter situation.

Barnes also hinted at the broader trauma that school shootings can have on students and communities.

“We ask for your prayers for the victims in this case,” he said. “I think that would include a lot of kids, not only ones that were truly the victims in this case, but all these other kids that are trying to make sense of this situation.”

Watch the press conference:

A Chalkbeat reporter is on the scene:

In a pattern that has become routine, Democratic and Republican politicians offered prayers on Twitter.

temporary reprieve

Parents score a temporary victory in slowing the closure of a small Brooklyn elementary school

PHOTO: Alex Zimmerman
Protesters gathered at the education department's headquarters to protest a recent set of closure plans.

A judge blocked the closure of a small Brooklyn elementary school Thursday — at least for now.

Three families from P.S. 25/the Eubie Blake School filed a lawsuit in March backed by the public interest group Advocates for Justice, arguing the city’s decision to close the school was illegal because the local elected parent council was not consulted.

Brooklyn Supreme Court judge Katherine Levine did not make a final ruling Thursday about whether the closure plan violated the law. But she issued a temporary order to keep the school open while the case moves forward.

It was not immediately clear when the case will be resolved or even if the school will remain open next year. “We are reviewing the stay and will determine an appropriate course of action once the judge makes a final decision on the case,” education department spokeswoman Toya Holness wrote in a statement.

The education department said the school has hemorrhaged students in recent years and is simply too small to be viable: P.S. 25 currently enrolls just 94 students in grades K-5.

“Because of extremely low enrollment, the school lacks the necessary resources to meet the needs of students,” Holness wrote. The city’s Panel for Educational Policy, a citywide oversight board that must sign off on all school closures, voted in February to close the school.

But the school’s supporters point out that despite low test scores in the past, P.S. 25 now ranks among the city’s top elementary schools, meaning that its closure would force students into lower-performing schools elsewhere.

“Why close a school that’s doing so well?” said Leonie Haimson, the executive director of Class Size Matters and one of the lawsuit’s supporters. “It doesn’t make sense to me.”

The lawsuit hinges on a state law that gives local education councils the authority to approve any changes to school zones. Since P.S. 25 is the only zoned elementary school for a swath of Bedford-Stuyvesant, the department’s plans would leave some families with no zoned elementary school dedicated to educating them, forcing students to attend other district schools or enter the admissions lottery for charter schools.

That amounts to “effectively attempting to change zoning lines” and “unlawfully usurping” the local education council’s authority to determine those zones, according to the lawsuit.

But even if the education department loses the lawsuit, the school’s fate would still be uncertain. The closure plan would theoretically be subject to a vote from the local education council, whose president supports shuttering the school.

Still, Haimson hopes the lawsuit ultimately persuades the education department to back away from closing the school in the long run.

“My goal would be to get the chancellor to change his mind,” Haimson said. “I don’t think the future is preordained.”