honeymoon's end

Teachers and principals unions: It should have been a snow day

PHOTO: Philissa Cramer

City educators — and their unions — are not happy about the Department of Education’s decision to keep schools  open today in the face of an approaching winter storm.

Chancellor Carmen Fariña announced last night, long before the first flakes fell, that schools would be open today. If stores and workplaces are open, schools should be too, she said, as she has before. (We put together a more complete accounting of Fariña’s rationale for keeping schools open whenever possible last week, the last time weather conditions might have merited a snow day.)

But as blizzard-like conditions snarled morning commutes today, keeping students and educators alike from getting to their schools, Fariña’s decision drew sharp criticism.

“I understand the desire to keep schools open. The only thing that trumps that is safety,” teachers union president Michael Mulgrew said in a statement. “It was a mistake to open schools today.”

The city’s announcement on Facebook that schools would be open drew more than a thousand critical comments. Some even called for the return of former mayor Michael Bloomberg, who himself was known for being stingy with snow days and for making the call about whether to keep schools open in the morning, after some teachers had left for work.

But on the teachers union’s Facebook announcement, much of the criticism was reserved for the union itself. Members said they were tired of using their personal days to stay home because of bad commutes or because their children’s suburban districts had called classes off.

“When does our union step in and actually try to do something about this?” asked Danielle O’Keeffe. “This is a major safety issue. If my child’s school is closed because it’s too dangerous to travel down the block then why is it not dangerous for me to travel 25 miles?”

A spokeswoman for the city’s principals union, the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, suggested that the Department of Education could do more for educators, who have not gotten the same dispensation to skip school in city press releases that families have.

“In recognition of how terrible the travel conditions are, DOE should institute an appeals process for those members who could not get in today (as it did for Hurricane Sandy) and award compensatory time,” said the spokeswoman, Chiara Coletti.

The union’s president, Ernest Logan, echoed Mulgrew in saying that Fariña had made the wrong call.

“The decision to open or close schools during severe storms is not a simple one, but today’s decision should have been simpler than most,” Logan said in a statement.” If ever there was a day to set aside bureaucratic concerns, today was the day.” 

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.