from the comments

For a former family worker, life after layoff is filled with false hope

In the Community section last week, teacher Brent Nycz said his sense of loss after his school lost four aides to layoffs was mitigated only by rumors that the aides could get by without their meager salaries.

In response, a commenter identifying as a laid-off worker said being able to “collect” without working is little consolation for having to leave a meaningful job.

“Only those of us who work in a school and know the relationships you form with the children … understand how staying home while school continues without you is the most difficult thing to deal with,” the worker wrote. “This experience has been awful and I wake up everyday hoping to be called back and everyday I realize it’s never going to happen.”

It seems that some school aides might have gotten calls to come in to work— against labor rules. Last week’s edition of the Principals Weekly newsletter cautioned principals against trying to use the laid-off workers as substitute teachers.

“These employees are not authorized to work as substitutes,” the newsletter said. “It is important to note that there is no mechanism to pay these employees if they are called to work. Additionally, there are strict contractual regulations that guide the use of substitute school aides; employing laid off employees as substitutes violates the collective bargaining agreement.”

Schools that are looking to fill aide positions should draw from the pool of aides whose previous schools cut their positions, the newsletter said.

After some schools cut aide positions to save money, the city laid off more than 650 less-senior aides at other schools in accordance with the aides’ union contract, which requires seniority-based layoffs. Some of the senior school aides whose schools cut their positions remain “in excess,” collecting their salaries even though they are not currently on any school’s payroll.

Here’s the comment from the laid-off school aide in its entirety:

I was a family worker who did all the things you describe. It is nice to know we were appreciated. But being married does not make this easier. I have heard so many people tell me how I am lucky because now I can stay home and “collect.” Only those of us who work in a school and know the relationships you form with the children, especially those students in [Instructional Support Services], who so desperately need structure and compassion, understand how staying home while school continues without you is the most difficult thing to deal with. And quite frankly, as small as my salary was, I needed it.

My family also needed my health coverage. Does anyone have any idea how much COBRA is? Or that the city cancelled our health insurance on the Monday following the layoffs? Or that no one was sent to replace us despite being told we were laid off because senior staff members were in excess? This experience has been terrible and hurtful. I worked so hard to learn [special education data systems] SESIS and CAP. I could read an IEP and tell you exactly what was wrong or right with it. I knew exactly where every kid should be and what services they should be receiving. I, as you describe with your family worker, kept so much in order when it came to compliance and errors. I was really good at my job and beyond that. And I loved my kids and I think about them everyday. These are the things that City Hall and the DOE will never understand.

This experience has been awful and I wake up everyday hoping to be called back and everyday I realize it’s never going to happen.

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.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at [email protected]

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede