Emotions still raw as Regents visit Sandy-affected city schools

IMAG0085Members of the state Board of Regents took a break from their cloistered policy discussions today to hear directly from families who were heavily affected by Superstorm Sandy last year.

“Every time it rains, like last week, the first words my son asks me” is if the house will flood, said Maryrose Spiteri. “He panics.”

Spiteri was part of a small group of parents and teachers from P.S. 38 on Staten Island who met in the school’s library this morning with three Regents: Chancellor Merryl Tisch, Buffalo’s Robert Bennett, and Staten Island’s Christine Cea. Principal Everlidys Robles estimated that 85 percent of her families “were devastated” by the storm and that 40 students — about 12 percent — had not returned.

The parents sat in chairs in a compact circle, where behind them a slideshow of events during the school’s recovery, which included visits from U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Mets shortstop David Wright, was projected onto a wall. On a table nearby was newspaper clippings about the damage to Staten Island and binders of assignments from students who wrote about the experiences.

One kindergartner, in a persuasive writing assignment, called on Mayor Bloomberg to build more houses for people who lost their homes. Another student wrote about getting rescued from his home. “In the morning a boat came and took us to the shelter,” he wrote.

Tisch asked the parents to share their personal experiences as well and, in a series of emotional testimonies, they did so. One parent, Kim Fish, said her family was split up for 10 hours during and after the storm.

Another mother, Diane Cruz, said she left her children, including a son who has autism, at home with a relative while running an errand for supplies at a Duane Reade as the storm got underway. She wouldn’t see them again until the next day.

“For 13 hours, I didn’t know if my kids made it out alive,” Cruz said. In a moment of levity, she recalled how they were reunited. “All of a sudden, I see my kids go by in a boat,” she said.

Many of the parents said that where other first responders had failed to help them, P.S. 38 and its staff provided assistance. The school was operating again on Nov. 2, and teachers had organized food pantries and toy drives to support the families who had lost everything. Cruz, who was displaced and lived in New Jersey after the storm, said that she heard from neighbors that teachers knocked on her front door to check on the family.

“We didn’t get help from anyone else,” Cruz said.

Along with other state education officials, Tisch initially visited schools shortly after the storm struck. She said today that she saw impressive improvement but added that the parents’ emotional recollections highlighted the daily challenges that still exist.

“For the people living in it day-to-day, I think at some point you get very frustrated with the pace of the progress,” Tisch said. “I think the emotion is just that it was a real lifetime event for real families in real time and they’re still living in it.”

Tisch also put teachers — and students — on the spot to describe their experiences with last month’s state tests. The Regents have drawn criticism for allowing state tests to be tied to new standards known as the Common Core soon after the state adopted the standards. But Tisch said she had also heard encouraging responses to her own questions about the year’s tests.

“I think it is extraordinary when you talk to the teachers and the children to see that they felt prepared and ready for the task, which is not to say that they will have the highest scores,” Tisch said. “But it is to say that they implementation of Common Core — no matter the circumstance, and this was a very complicated circumstance — is something that is on the mind of educators and school systems throughout the state.”

While Tisch was on Staten Island, State Education Commissioner John King toured two Sandy-affected school buildings in Queens, including the Channel View campus. The group reconvened this afternoon for an abbreviated policy meeting and a forum on immigration and education, as part of a push this week for legislative relief for students who were brought to the country illegally as children.

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.