west side story

Despite a rally and walkout, UWS parent council votes to rezone

An adapted Obama poster used at last night's District 3 diversity rally.

An Upper West Side parent council last night put its stamp of approval on a plan to ease overcrowding in public schools there. But opponents of the plan, who have been criticizing it for the past two months as stamping out diversity, kept up their fight until the very end.

The council’s resolution means that two schools, the Anderson School and the Center School, will relocate to other buildings in the neighborhood next fall. In 2010, people living in three small sections of the neighborhood will be reassigned to different elementary schools. All that remains now is for the Department of Education to execute the changes.

Opponents of the resolution included both Center School parents who don’t want their school to move and advocates of diversity, who think the resolution will make schools in the area more segregated. Some of those parents rallied before the meeting yesterday.

(View a video from last night’s rally, during which speakers condemn Schools Chancellor Joel Klein and swear to keep fighting for diversity. Yes, “Sex and the City” actress Cynthia Nixon appears, but unlike in last week’s video, she has a non-speaking role.)

Before the council approved the resolution in a 7-1 vote, dozens of parents, neighborhood residents, and elected officials delivered one-minute speeches expressing their support or opposition. The speeches lasted more than an hour.

Parents from the Center School said that relocating will interfere with the school’s success and decrease diversity in the PS 199 building where it is currently located. Center School supporters walked out partway through the meeting in protest.

Parents from PS 199, the school where the Center School is currently located, spoke out about their children’s need for art, music, and computer rooms, which the school is currently too crowded to have. Other parents who are zoned for PS 199 but whose children haven’t yet enrolled spoke in support of moving the Center School to ensure that there will be enough room for their children at PS 199.

State Sen. Tom Duane, who has supported the Center School, lamented the toll the conflict has taken on the neighborhood.

And Gary Goldstein, a former principal of PS 199, said he was “dismayed” by the situation. “There are no winners here,” he said, adding that if he were the Center School’s principal, “I, too, would feel so crushed.”

Also speaking were residents from buildings on Riverside Drive that lie inside one of the sections of the district that will be rezoned in the 2010-2011 school year. Several people from those buildings, including at least one man who said he has yet to begin a family, said they are not happy they are being reassigned from PS 199 to the lower-performing PS 191. They complained that they learned of the change only one week ago.

Jennifer Freeman, the council member who led the rezoning process, told the residents she agreed that they hadn’t been informed enough in advance of the council’s vote and encouraged them to appeal the rezoning. But she said the council would still vote on the resolution because it could not selectively approve the resolution’s contents.

“I know you haven’t known us for very long, but you have to trust us that that’s the correct process,” Freeman said during the meeting.

The lone dissenting vote came from a council member, Terry Gray, who said that if the council wasn’t satisfied with the Riverside Drive component of the rezoning, it shouldn’t vote to make it happen, even if that meant voting down the rest of the resolution as well. “We own zoning,” Gray said twice. He was referring to the fact that rezoning changes are among the only changes that can be made only by district parent councils, and not by the Department of Education.

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

More in What's Your Education Story?

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.