New York

Next stop federal court in Khalil Gibran saga

Federal court could be the next stop in the drawn-out drama surrounding Khalil Gibran International Academy, the Arabic-language school where the founding principal was forced to resign before the doors even opened.

Earlier this month, a federal employment panel ruled that the city had discriminated against the principal, Debbie Almontaser. But the panel, the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission, does not have the authority to impose consequences when it finds evidence of discrimination. Instead, it brings the groups together to negotiate a plan of action.

But yesterday the city told the Almontaser it wasn’t interested in negotiating, according to a group that has organized to support Khalil Gibran.

What’s next? The EEOC can choose to bring a lawsuit against an employer who rejects negotiation, and according to Khalil Gibran’s supporters, it has already referred Almontaser’s case to the federal justice department. Almontaser and her lawyers have said that they plan to sue based on the EEOC’s ruling. So the city could be facing a costly two-pronged legal attack over Khalil Gibran’s principalship.

As for the struggling school, all hopes rest on a new principal, the fourth since the school opened in 2007.

A press release from the group supporting the school is below:

COMMUNITIES IN SUPPORT OF
KHALIL GIBRAN INTERNATIONAL ACADEMY

DOE REJECTS EEOC FINDING OF DISCRIMINATION,
REFUSES NEGOTIATION WITH ALMONTASER

   EEOC Refers Case to Department of Justice to Consider Action Against City

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                           March 24, 2010

Contact: Mona Eldahry 917-703-0488; Donna Nevel 917-570-4371

The Department of Education (DOE) has notified the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) that it is unwilling to engage in a process of conciliation concerning the EEOC’s finding that the DOE discriminated against Debbie Almontaser when it forced her to resign as acting principal of the Khalil Gibran International Academy. The DOE’s position was conveyed to Ms. Almontaser and her lawyers in a letter received yesterday.

The EEOC’s ruling on March 9, 2010 had given the DOE until March 24 to indicate whether it would work with Ms. Almontaser’s lawyers and the EEOC to reach a “just resolution” of her claim.  Within hours of receiving the EEOC’s ruling, the DOE responded that it had “in no way discriminated against Ms. Almontaser and she will not be reinstated.”

Commenting on the DOE’s unwillingness to engage in conciliation, Cynthia Rollings, one of Ms. Almontaser’s lawyers, said: “Given the DOE’s dismissive response to the EEOC ruling, we were not surprised to learn that the DOE now says it is unwilling to engage in conciliation. The response is clearly prompted by considerations having nothing to do with the substance of the EEOC Determination.”  Co-counsel Alan Levine concurred: “The EEOC’s finding of discrimination is thorough and persuasive.  The DOE’s cavalier dismissal of that finding is stark evidence that the merits of the ruling played no part in its refusal to engage in conciliation discussions.”

Ms. Almontaser’s lawyers announced that they intend to bring a lawsuit based on Ms. Almontaser’s discrimination claim.  In addition, as a result of the DOE’s refusal to conciliate, the EEOC has referred the case to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to consider whether it, too, will bring a court action against the DOE.

“Although all of us familiar with these events knew that the DOE had discriminated against Debbie Almontaser, this is the first time that a finding of discrimination has been made by an impartial agency. We have all witnessed the DOE’s arrogance on many occasions, but this is particularly appalling,” stated Ujju Aggarwal of the Center for Immigrant Families.

“This case is of great importance to the Arab and Muslim communities, and we will urge our political representatives to contact the DOJ in an effort to get the DOJ to sue, ” said Dalia Mahmoud of the Muslim Public Affairs Council-NYC (MPAC-NYC).

 

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