tech crunch

Stuyvesant students, parents report mixed messages on tech

The crackdown on cell phones at Stuyvesant High School has extended in some cases to laptop computers and tablets, according to people in and close to the school.

With the school year just four days old, parents already buzzed in emails to each other about the confiscations. But school officials are in the process of explaining the abrupt change in the way they plan to handle phones and other electronic devices, and the devices will be permitted under some circumstances, students said today.

Monday’s confiscations came after Stuyvesant teachers and administrations seized 17 cell phones on the first two days of the school year. While city students have long been banned from bringing cell phones into schools, students at Stuyvesant and other schools where security is generally not a concern say their principals and teachers have usually turned a blind eye to phones that emerge in their classrooms. But after a student used a cell phone to help dozens of students cheat on final exams in June, Stuyvesant’s new principal seems to be renewing enforcement.

The crackdown has in some ways jolted the tech-savvy community at Stuyvesant,  which includes course offerings that often requires extensive work on computers. Students said today that nearly everyone brought a smartphone, laptop or tablet to school in the past and had grown accustomed to using them freely throughout the day.

The Department of Education’s regulations about school security say that “ipods, beepers and other communication devices” are also verboten.

It’s the last point, about communication, that seems to have muddied enforcement of the policy at Stuyvesant. Department officials say computers that don’t communicate are allowed in schools, and they are passing the message along to teachers at Stuyvesant.

“We’re reinforcing with teachers that laptops are not to be confiscated unless used to communicate with other students,” said Connie Pankratz, a department spokeswoman.

The entire school is equipped with wireless connectivity, allowing students to use computers and tablets to log online from anywhere in the building. Students said it was typical in the past to see students sitting in hallways and common areas working or playing online during their lunch and free periods.

And some teachers ask their students to communicate electronically, students said. Kayla Halbey said her government teacher created an online folder where students can submit assignments electronically up to a minute before class starts. “So if I don’t have my computer with me I can’t hand in my homework,” she said.

What the rules actually are has been murky. Students said enforcement of the city’s policy had varied from classroom to classroom. Many said their understanding was that computers and tablets would be confiscated if taken out of their bags in the hallway, but none said they actually gotten those instructions. A parent reported on an internal parent email list that at least one confiscation had taken place during a class, but a teacher said no policy had been distributed to school staff.

During an after-school assembly for juniors today, Principal Jie Zhang introduced herself and explained the new technology policy. Multiple students reported that Zhang told them computers and laptops would be permitted in the future for students whose parents submit a request in writing explaining that the devices help compensate for a disability or even for poor handwriting.

Some students said the uncertainty has caused even some teachers to eye their phones differently. ”They said they will get in trouble if they don’t take away phones on sight,” said Muhaimen Ahmed, a senior. “They’re even more careful about using their own phones.”


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

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.