the hot seat

Student moderators grill mayoral candidates at Harlem forum

Perhaps the candidates who showed up to Wednesday’s mayoral forum in a Harlem school auditorium thought they’d get a break when they saw who was asking the questions: a couple of high school kids.

But Michael Cummings and Alize-Jazel Smith, seniors at Democracy Prep Charter High School, turned out to be tough moderators. They shushed Bill Thompson when he spoke out of turn, politely interrupted Comptroller John Liu when his time was up, and pushed candidates to answer the questions they were asked if they had strayed off topic — as one candidate did often.

“So, Mr. McMillan, just to be specific,” said Cummings, referring to Jimmy McMillan, the perennial also-ran candidate of the Rent Is Too Damn High party. “Do you support or do you not support co-location inside school buildings for public schools and charter schools?”

McMillan, last seen running for governor against Andrew Cuomo in 2010, used up his two minutes suggesting he would decentralize the school system, upgrade technology, and replace school curriculum — but not actually answering the question.

“If they benefit from learning, yes,” McMillan said of co-locations. “But if it doesn’t, no.”

In addition to education, the forum also covered issues about public safety, housing, and jobs. It was organized and hosted by Democracy Builders, a parent advocacy group that is part of the Democracy Prep Public Schools, and the crowd consisted mostly of students from the charter school network.

McMillan, Liu, and Thompson were joined on stage by Sal Albanese after two other candidates — Public Advocate Bill de Blasio and Adolfo Carrión, Jr. — canceled their appearances. Liu and Thompson arrived late because they had been at a teachers union forum in Brooklyn.

Several Democracy Prep charter schools share space in public school buildings through co-location, a controversial practice that several candidates have vowed to stop. Speaking for the first time directly with charter school students, the candidates were encouraging but did not abandon their positions.

“I think it’s a disservice to the students, whether they be in schools that were already in that school building or whether they be in the schools that are entering that building,” Liu said about co-location.

Liu left early, but Thompson arrived in time for a “lightning round,” where Smith asked the candidates yes or no questions. Thompson at one point complained that the format wasn’t allowing him to articulate his views..

“The only thing I need to say to everybody is, in the lightening round the questions aren’t simple yes, nos,” Thompson said after Smith asked him if standardized testing was an effective measure of student learning. “They’re very involved, so when you talk about issues of co-location, when you talk about standardized testing — does standardized testing count? — sure. Is it the only measure of student achievement? Absolutely not.”

Jimmy McMillanVID00876 from GothamSchools on Vimeo.

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

More in What's Your Education Story?

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.