No board member backed Hispanic candidates

Two Denver school board members backing an advocacy group’s protest against the lack of Hispanic finalists for a board vacancy did not themselves vote to make any of the three Hispanic candidates finalists, records show.

Tally sheets obtained by EdNews Colorado show that none of six Denver school members, including Arturo Jimenez and Jeannie Kaplan, voted for a Hispanic candidate to be among nine finalists for a vacant northeast Denver board seat. On Monday Kaplan and Jimenez sent an email to other board members urging the selection process be reopened, as has been requested by the Colorado Latino Forum.

Arturo Jimenez, Lisa Calderon
DPS board member Arturo Jimenez (left) was among elected officials speaking to the Latino Forum on Feb. 12. At right is Lisa Calderon, co-chair of the Denver chapter of the Latino Forum.

The Denver metro chapter of the forum held a meeting Tuesday to discuss the lack of Hispanic finalists for the seat vacated by the recent resignation of Nate Easley.

“If we can’t be in the boardroom by appointment we will get there by election,” Denver City Councilman Paul Lopez told the group.

He was among of gaggle of elected officials that attended the meeting of about 40 people at Escuela Tlatelolco in north Denver.

Kaplan and Jimenez also addressed the group.

Asked Tuesday evening about why they didn’t vote to make any of the Hispanic candidates finalists, both Jimenez and Kaplan declined to discuss their votes, saying the selection process was a secret ballot. Both said they objected to what they called a “flawed” process. Kaplan claimed that board president Mary Seawell changed the selection process at the last minute.

During the Feb. 4 meeting the six board members filled out tally sheets that listed the 25 candidates. Each board member was allowed to select three candidates, assigning five points to their first choice, three points to their second and one point to their third choice.

The nine finalists were those who received the highest number of points.

Education News Colorado requested the tally sheets from DPS and examined them. The six sheets were not identified by board member, but no board member selected Hispanic applicants Tim Camarillo, Jesus Escarcega or Barbara Medina. Of the nine finalists, eight are black and one is white. Six are male and three are female. The current board has two Hispanics, one black and three whites.

Also making a cameo appearance at the meeting was board president Mary Seawell. She told the group, “I’m just here to listen” and said she welcomes emails or phone calls from anyone concerned about the process to fill the vacancy.

EdNews later asked Seawell if she would consider reopening the selection process, which must be completed by mid-March. She explained that the board has been taking “baby steps” in that process, deciding what to do at each step along the way. She indicated that the board might discuss reopening the process when it next meets on Feb. 19.

Kaplan told EdNews that she believes the best course would be to select an “interim” board member who wouldn’t run for election in November. If the board doesn’t go for that – which she expects it won’t – Kaplan said she will advocate for reopening the process to look for additional Hispanic candidates.

Also attending the meeting was Denver Council member Debbie Ortega. Her comments were less emphatic than those made by Lopez, and she said, “This is a very important issue” and that community input on board candidates is “a critical part of the process.”

And also making an appearance was unsuccessful applicant Medina, a former administrator at both DPS and the Colorado Department of Education who was greeted with applause. “I was very disappointed that I wasn’t given an interview,” Medina said. “The board’s in a tough place. … I’m not here as a spoilsport. I will support whoever the board selects.”

Hispanic forum first raised the issue

The lack of a Hispanic candidate for the vacant District 4 seat first was raised last week by the Denver chapter of the forum. Chapter leaders Lisa Calderón and Rudy Gonzales sent an open letter to Seawell criticizing the list of nine. Calderon said Tuesday she hadn’t yet received a response.

They wrote that the three Latino applicants on the original list of 25 applicants had “extensive backgrounds as educators in early childhood education and/or bi-lingual education, and had advanced graduate degrees including one Ph.D.”

Jimenez and Kaplan sent an email to other board members on Monday, writing, “community members are asking that the process be extended so there can be serious consideration given to Latino candidates, including interviews with the board of education like those held last Thursday for the other nine candidates.

“We are writing to let you know we support the Colorado Latino Forum’s desire to include Latino candidates in the selection of the representative from District 4. We are asking that we meet expeditiously to see how this can best happen.”

The board originally set Jan. 25 as the application deadline for District 4 residents interested in the seat but later delayed that until Feb. 5. Any interested person who was a registered voter in the district for 12 months could apply. (The residency requirements are set by state law.)

A community forum featuring the nine candidates currently is scheduled from 6 to 8 p.m. Feb. 20, at Smiley Middle School, 2540 Holly St.

Under state law the position must be filled within 60 days of Easley’s resignation, which was officially accepted Jan. 18. If the board can’t agree on a replacement, Seawell has the power to name a new member. She has said she’ll pick that person from among the nine finalists. Whoever is selected will have to run in next November’s election if they want to serve a full term.

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

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