an open forum

Fariña: System overhaul will improve special-ed issues

PHOTO: Stephanie Snyder
Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña

The coming school-system overhaul will improve special education services for students, Chancellor Carmen Fariña promised Monday night.

At a forum held by the New York Daily News and the faith-group coalition Metro-IAF, parents and educators presented Fariña with a number of harrowing stories. One parent said her signature had being forged on her child’s Individualized Education Program, the document laying out requirements for special services. Others talked about waiting months for a necessary evaluation or for a student to get access to a special service provider.

Fariña, flanked by her deputy in charge of special education, Corinne Rello-Anselmi, listened and acknowledged that she couldn’t fix the mistakes of the past. But the city’s new borough support centers will soon make it easier for schools and parents to escalate concerns, she said. In addition, the superintendents whom she has given new power and staff will be held accountable for the needs of special-education students, and each of their offices will have a parent liaison who will be asked to keep a log of concerns.

“We’re trying to make the system cleaner, clearer and more accountable,” Fariña said. Strong superintendents, she said later, are “what it’s all going to come down to.”

“You’re going to have a person to call,” Fariña said.

That overhaul has already begun, with superintendents of the city’s community school districts and groups of high schools getting more oversight power this year. The switch will fully flip this summer, as the school-support networks that have helped schools with things like instruction, budgeting, and special-education services are dismantled and their most of their staff members put into local support offices or placed under superintendents.

Fariña also faced tough questions from parents about the city’s struggling schools. Wendy Peters, the night’s first featured speaker, attended P.S. 305 in Bedford-Stuyvesant as a child, but declined to send her own child there in the late 1990s because of the school’s poor reputation. Now, she volunteers there as a tutor, but has seen little progress. No third graders there passed the state reading or math exams last year, Peters noted. (Of the school’s third through fifth graders, 14 percent met the state’s proficiency bar in math last year, while 11 percent did in reading.)

“Isn’t 16 years a reasonable amount of time for underperforming schools to receive the proper assistance they need or to be restructured and/or closed?” Peters asked.

The chancellor’s response hit familiar themes. For one, the superintendent in Brooklyn’s District 13 is working to offer teachers and principals extra support and training, Fariña said. Schools in the city’s Renewal turnaround program (which P.S. 305 is not a part of) are getting even more help, aided by the Renewal-focused staff member reporting to each superintendent.

“I’m not making excuses for what’s been decades of neglect, but I will say at many schools they didn’t have the right tools and they didn’t have the right supervision,” Fariña said.

“There’s no quick answer,” Fariña said, responding to a question about when parents should expect larger-scale improvements at the city’s Renewal schools. “I’m not telling you 16 years is not a long time to wait. Because it is, absolutely, without a doubt. However, I’ve been on the job a year and half, and you have to give me at least another year.”

Soon, struggling elementary schools will get extra help with phonics instruction, and second graders will take the Gates-Macginitie Reading Test to better assess their skills, Fariña said. Meanwhile, superintendents are closely scrutinizing school leadership, and 10 principals have recently been moved to other jobs.

The chancellor will participate in a second, similar forum on May 28.

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.