day one

Even as some buses roll, families struggle on strike's first day

Kayley, a student at Central Park East 2 (with head turned), traveled to school with his mother today. He took a city bus instead of a yellow bus because of a strike by school bus drivers.

Families across the city contended with unfamiliar transportation routes, incomplete information, and bad weather to get their children to school this morning, the first during a strike called by the bus drivers union.

Most bus drivers did not report to work today to protest the city’s decision not to extend seniority protections to current drivers when opening bids for new contracts with bus companies. Their union, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1181, also picketed outside some bus depots, in some cases briefly impeding non-union bus companies from operating, and released a television ad that paints new bus drivers as dangerous.

But the Department of Education said 40 percent of buses actually did roll today, including 100 percent of routes serving children in prekindergarten. Those bus drivers work under contracts negotiated last year.

Just 12 percent of routes for students in general education were running today, while 60 percent of routes serving students with special needs were disrupted.

Preliminary data showed strong attendance citywide, Chancellor Dennis Walcott announced at a city press conference where he praised parents for “being really focused on getting their kids to school.” But he said attendance at District 75 schools, which serve the city’s most disabled students, was down by about a quarter today.

Just over half of students made it to P811 in Manhattan, down significantly from the 90 percent average daily attendance rate, according to teachers there. Teachers at a Staten Island school, P721, reported similar figures.

A security guard who works in the housing project near the New York Center for Autism Charter School in Manhattan said he had not seen as many kids as usual arriving at the school this morning.

One mother, Lucia, said she made the commute by taxi from Tribeca — at great personal expense. Her son’s autism makes him unable to take public transportation. Even though the the city will reimburse the $31 cab fare each way, she will still lose four hours a day shepherding her son to school, going to work, picking him up, and returning home.

“The strike delays my workday by two hours. I have to transport him morning and afternoon,” she said. “So that’s four hours of unproductive time for me in terms of work. I only have four hours there, and what can I do in four hours?”

(The city’s reimbursement plan requires parents to front the costs of transportation by car for a week. “But what if parents don’t have any money?” asked Crystal, a teacher at an early learning center. “You’ll reimburse them, but who’s going to give them the money to get there?”)

Students arrive at the New York Center for Autism Charter School this morning. Many students who attend the school take buses whose drivers started a strike today.

Another mother at the school, who identified herself only as Grace, said she spent an hour and a half in traffic this morning with her son. “It’s terrible, and I’m going to be late to work,” she said.

At Central Park East 2, an unzoned school where many students take the bus, a mother named Carla said her flexible schedule meant bringing her children was not a problem today. But, she said, “it’s harder for [other] parents, especially the parents who work 9 to 5. … It’s a bad day out, too.”

Other students stayed home. Barbara, who works at P.S. 306 in East New York and asked that only her first name be used, said her daughter stayed home today. Tomorrow, she said, her daughter would be late to P368, a school for students with disabilities in Cobble Hill. “I have to get her to school when I get off at 9:30,” she said.

And dropping two of his siblings off at P.S. 306 before getting on the city bus to Urban Action Academy, Ricardo Medina said his other younger brother stayed home because his special education school was too far away.

“They’re really mad but I guess there’s nothing they can do if the bus people are going on strike,” Medina said about his parents.

The Department of Education has created a search tool for families to find out whether their school’s buses are running as usual. But some families evidently did not find out in time that their children’s buses would not be disrupted by the strike.

At P.S. 306, Principal Lawrence Burroughs said the school was operating normally because most students live nearby. But of the four buses that normally serve the school, just one showed up today, and it was empty, according to a school safety officer.

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 cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

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