strategy session

As co-location construction starts, the UFT weighs its next steps

Hours after a judge ruled that the city can go ahead with a controversial slate of school closure and openings, union lawyers are starting to sketch out their response.

Department of Education officials said construction projects planned to ready school buildings for co-locations were free to begin. At PS 308 in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, workers were painting classrooms. But Rafiq Kalam Id-Din said he was still waiting for the city to approve construction for the school he runs, Teaching Firms of America Charter School.

Meanwhile, lawyers for the United Federation of Teachers, one of the leading plaintiffs in the lawsuit, are studying the decision and deliberating their next steps. The ruling last night denied a preliminary injunction that would have barred the city from moving forward with its plans, but it did not assess the merits of the UFT and NAACP’s claims that the city’s plans would lead to inequities among schools.

Last night, the union said it would not drop the lawsuit, and any future adjudication would focus on those equity claims. But it could take some time for union lawyers to wade through questions that could influence how they proceed.

One question is just what the union would seek to get out of such a suit. With the start of the school year just weeks away, the chance of any further action preventing the start of phase-outs and the beginning of co-locations is virtually nil.Reversing those actions once they start would be very difficult. But the plaintiffs could instead seek a form of redress that deals with underlying equity issues in the DOE’s planning without affecting individual schools.

Figuring out the goals of continued litigation requires consultation with the NAACP and the host of other plaintiffs who signed onto the suit before it was filed in May. That consultation is likely to take some time, especially because there some of the plaintiffs are likely to be away during the summer vacation. UFT President Michael Mulgrew, for example, is in South Africa right now, where he is attending an international convention of teachers union officials in Cape Town.

When the lawyers do reach all the plaintiffs, they could face some reticence to press on now that its clear the case won’t be easy to win. Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott and charter school advocates have called on the union and NAACP to drop the suit, and the higher stakes of continued action, which could ask for the city to undo its plans, not just halt them, might be too much for some of the lawsuit’s original supporters.

Finally, there’s an open question about who would hear the lawsuit. While there’s no assurance, it could be Judge Paul Feinman, the same State Supreme Court justice who denied the preliminary injunction. That would give the UFT — and the city — an indication of what to emphasize in court. In yesterday’s decision, Feinman said that the equity issues “do not lean inexorably in the direction of either party,” but he also said that it might well be true that the city’s educational policies are misguided.

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.