Colorado

DPS board hit with civil rights complaint

The Denver metro chapter of the Colorado Latino Forum filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights Wednesday against the Denver school board and its president because there are no Latinos in the running to replace Nate Easley, who resigned in January.

File photo of Denver school board president Nate Easley
File photo of former Denver school board member Nate Easley

The Colorado Latino Forum is asking the OCR to:

  • Add a qualified Latino to the finalist pool before the March 18 appointment deadline.
  • Conduct an investigation to determine whether there has been a violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.
  • Facilitate a mediation meeting between the parties in an attempt to obtain voluntary compliance.
  • Initiate enforcement action, either by referring the case to the Department of Justice for court action, or by initiating proceedings before an administrative law judge, if voluntary compliance fails.

The three finalists for the seat – selected by an anonymous voting and ranking system by the six sitting board members – are Landri Taylor, head of the Denver Urban League, Taggart Hansen, a lawyer, and Antwan Jefferson, an educator who specializes in urban education. All three are African-American.

DPS Board President Mary Seawell said Thursday the district had not received legal notice of any complaint. Furthermore, Seawell said, district legal counsel told her the OCR does not have jurisdiction over the board appointment, a process that is outlined in state law. A spokesperson for the OCR was looking into the matter.

“We are going forward,” Seawell said of the process to fill Easley’s seat. “This has been a fair and open process.”

The board is scheduled to attempt to pick the new board member to represent District 4 in Northeast Denver at a meeting today. The deadline for filling the seat is Monday under a 60-day deadline set by state law. Also under state law, a school board president has the authority to make an appointment if the board cannot come to consensus.

The complaint argues that because more than half of District 4’s 28,800 students are Latino, a Latino community member should represent them. Of the remaining students, 27 percent are black and 16 percent white, the forum says.

“We claim specifically that qualified Latino candidates were excluded by an arbitrary and capricious process within a school district that is comprised of nearly 60 percent Latino students,”  a news release issued Wednesday by the forum said.

The group asserts that qualified Latinos have been intentionally and discriminatorily excluded from the finalist pool.

The organization points out that none of the nine early finalists from a pool of 25 contenders were Latino.

However, a review of the first round of secret ballots cast by board members in which they were asked to rank their top three picks from the pool of 25 found that none of the six board members, including the board’s two Latino members – Andrea Merida and Arturo Jimenez – selected a Latino candidate to rise to the next level.

But the Colorado Latino Forum asserts that Barbara Medina, former assistant commissioner for Innovation and Transformation at the Colorado Department of Education should have made the cut.

“Today political favoritism has been the determining factor in the BOE appointment process resulting in board members failing to take into account the rapidly growing Latino student population, a majority being English Language Learners or Spanish bilingual speakers,” the complaint states.

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