New York

Report calls for overhaul of services for immigrant students

New York City needs to overhaul the way it screens and labels immigrant students who speak little English and may have missed years of school, according to a new report by Advocates for Children.

Since 2003, the city has handed out over $19 million to 129 different schools to help them serve students with interrupted formal education, known as SIFE. Despite the grant money, AFC reports that too few of these students are identified — many wind up wrongly classified as needing special education — and those who are still find themselves placed in schools where no one on staff is trained to help them.

Though SIFE students fall under the umbrella group of English language learners, they experience problems in school that other immigrant or non-English speaking students don’t. When Isabel, one of the 12 students profiled in the report, moved with her family to New York at age 12, she was the age of most sixth graders, so the DOE put her in a sixth-grade bilingual class. But Isabel had never attended school before, she spoke a then-unwritten language, and knew neither English or Spanish. She was lost, and by age 15, she had only the literacy skills of a kindergartner. AFC lobbied for her to be transferred to a high school for international students, but many SIFE students who don’t find the right school end up dropping out.

According to the report, the Department of Education needs to rethink its entire citywide strategy for helping SIFE students. This would include replacing single-year grants with multi-year ones, offering more training for teachers on how to identify SIFE students, and translating the test that’s used to label these students into languages other than Spanish.

The report also suggests that SIFE students should have an extended graduation timeline.

“Putting pressure on schools to graduate SIFE in four or five years may also create disincentives for schools to serve SIFE in the first place,” the report states.

The DOE says its special education overhaul will cause all schools to become able to meet the needs of SIFE students.

“We’re proud of the work we have done to bring national attention to Students with Interrupted Formal Education by improving identification, and funding new research and innovative programs,” said DOE spokesman Matt Mittenthal in a statement.

“While we are still reviewing the report and plan to submit our response shortly, we believe that its conclusions rely on anecdotes, unconfirmed accounts from unnamed schools, and misuse of data.”

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.