peer pressure

As anti-closure rallies expand to high schools, students jump in

A screenshot from the Facebook event advertising a rally to support Juan Morel Campos Secondary School

Community meetings at schools that the Department of Education is considering closing have started attracting a new constituency: students.

That’s because the meetings, which the DOE calls “early engagement conversations,” are now being held at high schools. Until this week, all of the meetings had happened at elementary and middle schools, for which the city released a shortlist of potential closures in September.

One meeting took place Monday evening at Wadleigh Secondary School for Performing Arts, where some members of the school community are arguing that its progress report data aren’t bad enough to warrant closure. Last night, students made the case for keeping Manhattan’s High School of Graphic Communications Arts open. And today, students have recruited crowds to defend Juan Morel Campos Secondary School in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

Tiffany Munoz, a Juan Morel Campos junior who was student body president last year, said students were alarmed when they heard that the school could close and quickly invited hundreds of current and former students to a Facebook event, “Save Juan Morel Campos Secondary School (I.S. 71) From Being Closed.” Tonight, when the school’s superintendent meets with community members, 150 students who RSVPed yes plan to let her know that the school is a tight-knit community with a thriving arts and music program where teachers push students to do their very best.

They’ll be joined by parents and teachers who say they also plan to fight for the school.

“The students are very upset. A lot of them are telling me and my kids if they had to look for another high school they wouldn’t do it,” said Carol Diaz, the mother of two Juan Morel Campos high school students and the secretary of the PTA.

A rally before the engagement meeting was organized in conjunction with advocacy groups from the Coalition for Educational Justice, which has helped parents at a number of schools at risk of being closed push back against the DOE’s characterization that the schools are low-performing. Instead, the rallies argue, budget cuts have held the schools back.

Munoz said she has attended the school since she was in sixth grade and has seen supplies and after-school clubs dry up.

A high school teacher said budget cuts had slashed funding for teachers to run after-school programs or offer late-night tutoring. An evening class for new immigrants that bolstered the school’s graduation rate for English language learners — who make up nearly a third of students — was canceled last year, the teacher said.

“If we had more of the resources that we had in the past, a lot of graduation issues — I’m not going to say it would do everything — would be resolved,” said a high school teacher who asked not to be identified.

The school’s 4-year graduation rate last year was 45.6 percent. But its 6-year graduation rate was 76 percent, suggesting that the school holds on to many students rather than letting them drop out. Just under 60 percent of the members of the 6-year cohort had graduated on time in 2009.

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.