After protests, planned school boundaries in central Denver get edits

Updated: 7:02 p.m. Denver’s school board unanimously passed a proposal to change the boundaries between Lowry Elementary School and the Denver Green School that does not include the lower income Berkshire Towers or a new addition to Lowry.

7 p.m. New proposal also leaves the Berkshire Towers with Denver Green School rather than moving it to the Lowry boundary.

6:15 p.m. An updated proposal is now on the website. It does not mandate any addition but allows for building future capacity:
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More here.

A district plan to change the boundaries between two central Denver schools that attracted parent protest may receive some major edits at the school board meeting tonight.

Proposed changes to Lowry Elementary and Denver Green School boundaries (Denver Public Schools)
Proposed changes to Lowry Elementary and Denver Green School boundaries (Denver Public Schools)

The original plan would have altered the boundary between the Denver Green School and Lowry Elementary School, adding roughly 150 new students to Lowry over the next several years. Lowry would receive students from three neighborhoods, two relatively affluent neighborhoods and one lower income residential area. The district allocated funds under the 2012 bond measure to build an addition to Lowry this winter to prepare for that influx of students.

But a document posted to the agenda for Thursday night’s school board meeting suggests that the addition may be postponed and the boundaries between the two schools altered slightly. The district had not returned calls for comment as of press time.

The apparent revision comes after months of protests from community members who don’t want the planned boundary changes and addition to move forward. The original plan, which was presented to the board for a vote in September, was delayed twice after drawing criticism from representatives of both school communities and local homeowners associations. Critics said the plan was not presented in advance to the community and did not provide any alternatives for discussion.

“The hard part here is that the community has wanted other alternatives, like building a new school,” said Veronica Figoli, the district’s head of community outreach. “We feel very strongly even back at the bond and mill levy, the money set aside was for a new expansion, not a new school.”

Despite the district’s position, parents at several community forums and a special public comment session Monday have pushed to consider a new school to house the 150 new students at Lowry and reduce class sizes. Their proposed location is the building that once housed Whiteman Elementary School, now the home of the Denver Language School.

“The Denver Language School is outgrowing its space,” said Michael Miller Monday. Miller said he had one child enrolled in the Denver Green School.

Miller and other parents found a supporter in Jeannie Kaplan, an outgoing board member.

“Every time DSST blinks its eye, we build them a school or find them a building,” said Kaplan. According to Kaplan, the boundary changes represent a systemic problem in the district’s approach to central Denver. “To me, this [proposal] doesn’t address the issue in central Denver, which is overcrowding in schools.”

Kaplan also said the capacity issue could be solved by managing the number of students who choose to go to Lowry.

“If the school said no to choice and accepted kids from all the areas, they wouldn’t need an addition,” said Kaplan.

She is not opposed to the boundary change but would like to see discussion about the addition delayed.

Asked why she supported one and not the other, Kaplan said she wanted to support Mayfair Park, one of the neighborhoods affected by the change. Mayfair Park’s neighborhood school is the Denver Green School, which is an innovation school. The president of the Mayfair Park neighborhood association said the neighborhood would like a more traditional neighborhood school.

The discussion around the boundary change has also raised issues of the area’s demographics. The three neighborhoods which would be moved inside the Lowry boundary includes Berkshire Towers, a lower income neighborhood. Lowry currently has 34 percent low income students, compared with 58 percent at the Denver Green School.

Observers at community meetings reported that participants raised the issue of how many more students who receive free and reduced lunch would attend Lowry under the new plan. Others objected to the district’s projections for how many more students the schools could expect, saying they didn’t take into account larger families.

“By changing the boundaries, you are further impoverishing kids,” said David Halterman, a Denver Green School parent. “You’re going to further segregate poor people.”

Another Denver Green school parent commented on wanting “the socioeconomic mixture that benefits all students.”

But for most, the key issue seems to have been the timeline for making a decision and beginning construction of the Lowry addition.

District staffers presented the community with the boundary change plan the same week as the original board vote in September. The district expected to break ground in December on the new addition and begin enrolling students according to the new boundary changes next year.

“I’ve asked myself over and over, what’s the rush to change the boundaries and start a major construction project right now?” said Sara Simmons, a Lowry parent.

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

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