sound of silence (update)

Mayoral hopefuls mum, other politicians shun StudentsFirstNY

Most of the 2013 mayoral contenders are still keeping an arm’s length from a union-backed campaign to tie StudentsFirstNY’s agenda to Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign. But that hasn’t stopped a slew of other political hopefuls from throwing their support behind the effort.

New Yorkers for Great Public Schools, a coalition of public unions, community-based organizations and liberal advocacy groups, has released a list of 33 elected officials and candidates who have signed on to a pledge to refuse support from StudentsFirstNY, which is seeking to advance the education polices started by the Bloomberg administration. The list includes candidates for Manhattan and Brooklyn Borough President, Public Advocate and a slew of City Council members and state legislators.

Noticeably absent are frontrunners in the one race that New Yorkers for Great Public Schools and StudentsFirstNY hope to influence the most: the 2013 mayoral election. Only one prospective candidate, John Liu, has said he’d reject StudentsFirstNY’s support.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said last week she’d be fine accepting their support, as did long-shot Tom Allon. Former Comptroller Bill Thompson was non-committal in his response and one other candidates, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer has stayed mum on the subject.

UPDATE: A spokesman for Public Advocate Bill de Blasio just emailed over to say that he would reject any support from StudentsFirstNY. The spokesman added that de Blasio would not, however, sign onto the pledge sent out by New Yorkers for Great Public Schools earlier today:

“Bill is committed to working with people on all sides of the education debate to improve our schools. But given the honest policy disagreements he has with StudentsFirst, he would respectfully decline contributions from the group’s PAC.”

But plenty of other elected officials and candidates for office were willing to speak out against StudentsFirstNY, according to New Yorkers for Great Public Schools. The statements that accompanied a release sent out this afternoon covered a broad range of education issues.

U.S. Congresswoman Nydia Vasquez called on class-size reduction and an end to rent-free charter school co-locations. State Senator Liz Krueger said that fairer student funding formulas and greater professional support for teachers were “common sense” reforms. And Councilman Mark Weprin criticized the StudentsFirstNY’s support of standardized testing, which he called a “scourge.”

There were also plenty of references to a report last week that showed some board members of StudentsFirstNY were actively working to defeat President Obama through fundraising and personal donations. New Yorkers for Great Public Schools, which published the report, has sought to use this link to argue that StudentsFirstNY’s policies would lead to a privatized education system that would threaten jobs and put bottom-line business interests above all else. 

City Councilman Robert Jackson, a candidate for Manhattan Borough President, said the connections were “alarming and disturbing.” State Senator Eric Adams, a candidate for Brooklyn Borough President, called StudentsFirstNY an “ALEC-like organization,” referring to a national group of politicians, businesses, and think tanks that write and push for conservative legislation.

Glen Weiner, deputy director of StudentsFirstNY, said in a statement that it wasn’t surprising to see some that some elected officials were coming out in support of New Yorkers for Great Public Schools.

“A press release stating the teachers union can buy off or bully a couple of dozen politicians who think the current education system is just fine is hardly news,” Weiner said. “In fact, it’s one of the reasons StudentsFirstNY was formed.”

Below is a list of the 33 elected officials and candidates who said they have agreed to refuse funding from StudentsFirstNY:

Senator Eric Adams, Candidate for Brooklyn Borough President

Assemblyman Jeff Aubry

City Council Member Charles Barron

Assemblywoman Inez Barron

Assemblyman Michael Benedetto

Assemblyman William Colton

City Council Member Leroy Comrie, Candidate for Queens Borough President

City Council Member Daniel Dromm

City Council Member Julissa Ferraras

Assemblywoman Deborah Glick

Jesus Gonzalez, City Council candidate

Noah Gotbaum, Candidate for Public Advocate

Senator Shirley Huntley

City Council Member Robert Jackson, Candidate for Manhattan Borough President

City Council Member Letitia James, Candidate for Public Advocate

Senator Liz Krueger

City Council Member Brad Lander

City Council Member Stephen Levin

Comptroller John Liu, Candidate for Mayor

Assemblyman Alan Maisel

City Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito

Jason Otnaño, Candidate for State Senate

Senator Kevin Parker

Assemblyman Nick Perry

City Council Member Diana Reyna

Antonio Reynoso, Candidate for City Council

Donovan Richards, Candidate for City Council

Senator Gustavo Rivera

Community Board 7 Member Helen Rosenthal Candidate for NYC Council

City Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer

Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez

City Council Member Mark Weprin

City Council Member Jumaane Williams

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