peace in the space wars

School space group offers path forward for de Blasio on co-locations

PHOTO: Jackie Schechter

Collaboration, transparency and students with disabilities are the themes of a long-awaited report from a diverse group of education experts convened to advise the de Blasio administration on how schools should share space.

The new report offers dozens of recommendations and strategies for how schools can better share space within a building. It calls for more public involvement during the planning period, suggests that schools in the same building share main offices or faculty work rooms, and says “bad neighbors” in a building should be monitored and arbiters dispatched to settle intractable disputes.

But the report is less a playbook for the de Blasio administration to use than a 13-page mission statement. And it warns that the “most urgent” school space issues — overcrowding and the presence of classroom trailers — have yet to be fully addressed. Requirements to provide facilities for new and expanding charter schools and plans to add 2,000 prekindergarten classrooms next year will further stretch the city’s capacity.

Co-locations incite some of the city’s fiercest education battles because they force schools to share auditoriums and cafeterias and divvy up the building’s classrooms and offices. Two of three city schools share space, but often the most contentious co-locations involve district and charter schools placed in the same building.

It is now the city’s decision whether to turn the group’s recommendations into system-wide regulations or simply guidelines that different schools in the same building are encouraged to follow. Even if the city does create new space-sharing rules, though, charter schools in public buildings will not necessarily be bound by them since they are exempt from most rules covering district schools.

“One of the big concerns is that charters aren’t technically obligated to follow” the recommendations, said Miriam Aristy-Farer, president of the community education council in Manhattan’s District 6 and a member of the advisory group that wrote the report, in an interview last month. “We could have all these great recommendations, but it’s up to them whether to follow them or not.”

The report suggests shorter and more concise explanations of how schools will be affected by changes, and make them available in more than just English and Spanish. It also asks that officials no longer sit silently and take notes at heated community meetings but instead respond to concerns directly.

Schools that share space should be given additional resources to coordinate schedules so that problems like extremely early and late lunch periods could be avoided, the report suggests. It also advises the city to provide examples of successful school schedules and continue to encourage schools to share Advanced Placement courses, foreign language programs, and joint extracurricular activities.

The report acknowledges that some co-location situations are more tense than others. It recommends the city create a system to monitor “high-risk co-locations” when one school is viewed as a “bad neighbor” because it resists collaboration or criticizes a school with which it shares space. When school leadership teams are unable to settle a dispute between themselves, the report also recommends that the city appoint an independent arbiter to resolve the impasses.

The report also suggests that the city should minimize changes that would uproot programs with students with severe special needs, an issue at the heart of a springtime scuffle over space at one of the schools where de Blasio nixed a space-sharing plan. Future plans should also set aside space specifically for mental health services, a nod to the de Blasio administration’s community schools initiative.

City Hall and the education department have already promised a number of reforms to the space-sharing process. Those included school walkthroughs by department officials when new co-locations are being considered, more public hearings before final co-location votes, and “campus squads” that will be dispatched to buildings with multiple schools to help resolve disputes.

The report’s release comes at a challenging moment for the de Blasio administration, which will have to quickly find space for at least four new charter schools as a result of new legislation. How the city handles that contentious process will be the first major test of the administration’s commitment to transparency and community involvement.

That law puts the city in bind: Many schools were already packed to the brim before de Blasio introduced his signature pre-kindergarten expansion and his plan to locate more service providers in schools, both of which absorb space. The new law says the city must find even more space in its cramped buildings for charter schools, or pay for more-expensive private locations.

“This law will have at least some, possibly significant, impact on space availability going forward,” Buery and Fariña wrote in their introduction to the new report.

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

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.