Officials blanket Sandy-affected schools, where fallout persists

State Education Commissioner John King and City Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott talk to a P.S. 47 administrator.

At M.S. 53 on the Rockaway Peninsula, one student told Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch he was worried about taking the state tests after all the time he missed in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

Up a flight of stairs at Village Academy, Chancellor Dennis Walcott heard from a seventh-grader named Kimberly who lost everything in the storm. In a few weeks, she’s relocating permanently to Rochester, said her principal, Doris Lee.

And at a third visit at P.S. 47 in Broad Channel, an island that helps connect the Far Rockaway peninsula to the Queens mainland, Walcott asked about 20 fourth-graders if they knew what “FEMA” meant.

Every hand went up.

Another 12 schools damaged by Sandy reopened on Monday, bringing 5,400 more students back to their original classrooms from temporary relocations in other school buildings. During a visit to another Far Rockaway school, P.S. 43, Mayor Bloomberg celebrated the news and noted that of 65 schools originally rendered “non-operational” because of power outages, damaged boilers, and flooded basements, all but 18 are back up and running.

At the 18 schools that are still in temporary sites, attendance on Monday was 80 percent, far higher than the 30-percent attendance rate that relocated schools were posting when school first reopened. Attendance was only slightly higher, 80.6 percent, at the 12 schools that moved home today. Citywide, attendance was 91.1 percent.

But as the hardest-hit schools reopen and attempt to return to normalcy, students, teachers, and administrators say Sandy is hardly in their rearview mirror. Walcott, Tisch, State Education Commissioner John King and other education officials spent Monday morning visiting some of the schools to find out how they’re doing now that school has resumed.

In Kimberly’s science class at Village Academy, for instance, the class reviewed the weather patterns and conditions and had to determine whether they should have evacuated before the storm hits.

The officials spent most of the morning popping in and out of classrooms, asking teachers and students about their work and talking about the storm.

The heat and electricity might be back on at P.S. 47, but Principal Ann Moynagh said things were hardly back to normal after the school returned to its home building last Tuesday. Moynagh told Walcott that she estimated about 50 percent of her school’s families had been displaced and she ticked off the new towns and states where they were enrolling: Montauk, Pennsylvania, Mastic, Monticello, Glendale.

There was still no internet or phone service available at the school and Moynagh said it had made getting in touch with students who remained absent from school.

“There are 55 kids who we’ve really been unable to account for,” Moynagh said of the 241-student school. “We’re still trying to figure a lot out.”

Bloomberg, Walcott, King, and Tisch were not the only officials to visit storm-affected schools on Monday, the three-week anniversary of the storm. Public Advocate Bill de Blasio visited I.S. 211 in Canarsie to meet maintenance workers who “worked around the clock for sixteen days after storm to repair the building and reopen it to students,” according to a release sent out by de Blasio’s office.

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.