road to city hall

Quinn, GOP skipping parent-focused Brooklyn education forum

Screen Shot 2013-05-02 at 8.25.39 AMIt’s been a while since City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and the rest of the mayoral hopefuls have focused on education. In the two months since they last appeared at a schools forum, they’ve debated everything from public safety to technology to community gardens.

So tonight’s forum at P.S. 29 in Cobble Hill seemed to be an important chance for Quinn and her rivals to refresh the public’s memory about their ideas on education, which parents say will be a crucial issue for them when they cast their ballots later this year.

But of the four Democratic candidates who plans to attend, Quinn isn’t one of them. The race’s five non-Democratic candidates, including four Republicans, also declined invitations to attend.

A spokesman said Quinn has a scheduling conflict, an inevitability at a time when the candidates are making public appearances and private glad-handing with breakneck speed.

”Speaker Quinn has attended 30 forums over the last several months, including three education-related ones and she is attending another roughly dozen this month,” said the spokesman, Mike Morey. “Unfortunately, we just couldn’t make this one work with the schedule. We appreciate the effort organizers put into it and are hopeful we’ll be able to do something with them in the future.”

Parents said Quinn’s explanation for her absence was both disappointing and not entirely convincing.

“It’s possible that she has another event, but it’s unfortunate,” said Rhonda Keyser, co-president of the Parent Teacher Association at P.S. 29.

“I think this will prove to be very important and it’s a shame that she won’t be there because parents in District 15 are very engaged and interested to hear what the candidates have to say about education,” added Keyser.

Keyser said she thought one reason Quinn might have been reluctant to attend is who’s going to be asking the questions.

“I think it’s interesting that Diane Ravitch is the moderator,” said Keyser, referring to the New York University education historian and a prolific critic of Mayor Bloomberg, Quinn’s ally. The Alliance for Quality Education, one of the groups behind the anti-Bloomberg coalition New Yorkers for Great Public Schools, is co-sponsoring the event.

Of the Democratic candidates, Quinn has done the least to distance herself from Bloomberg during the mayoral campaign. Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, Comptroller John Liu and Bill Thompson have not only condemned Bloomberg and his signature education policies — such as co-locations and school closings — but have also vowed to move away from them if elected.

“Whether or not she actually has a scheduling conflict, I don’t think it will actually matter,” said Michelle Kupper, a P.S. 29 parent who helped organize the event. “Her absence will not go over very well.”

Although education is viewed as an important issue in the election, advocates say that the candidates have given the topic short shrift so far. Quinn is the only candidate to have issued a comprehensive education platform, which included promises for literacy programs, “community schools,” and a ban on field testing. Other candidates have made education proposals but have not yet set out a complete agenda.

“I don’t know where the candidates stand on the single issue that matters most to me,” said Janice Bloom, the mother of two students whose organization Parent Voices NY is sponsoring the event. Parents said they want to hear the candidates speak specifically about parent engagement, class size, and high-stakes tests. (The candidates have addressed those topics in the past, but not in front of an audience of mostly parents.)

It’s the second straight night that Quinn will skip a mayoral forum, which have filled up the candidates’ daily campaigning schedules for month. Quinn has attended 30 forums since late January, or about two per week. In the last 10 days, she has even attended two forums that other Democratic candidates missed.

Still, her pace seems to have slowed, her rivals said.

“No candidate has made every single forum — but Quinn does seem to be missing more of them (than) most,” said Dan Levitan, a spokesman for Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, who is also running for mayor.

In an email, Ravitch said she expected her parent audience to be disappointed but she held out a glimmer of hope that Quinn would clear her schedule.

“We will save a chair for her in case she changes her mind,” Ravitch wrote.

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