border control

Downtown residents disappointed by school zones proposal

A map of proposed new school zones for Lower Manhattan

Tribeca’s P.S. 234 is no stranger to overcrowding, but last night the packed auditorium was full of stressed downtown parents instead of their children.

The parents were there to speak out on the Department of Education’s rezoning proposal for downtown Manhattan during the first of multiple public hearings held by the Community Education Council for District 2.

It is the third time District 2 has been rezoned in as many years as new schools have come online to serve the district’s growing number of families. In 2009, the department offered up multiple rezoning options, pitting parents against each other based on how their children would be affected. This year, the department released a single proposal for the council to revise and approve.

“We went through some wars together,” Elizabeth Rose, from the DOE’s department of portfolio management, told the parents at last night’s meeting. “Tonight, I’m mostly here to listen.”

Rose, CEC members, and other officials heard parents complain that they had moved to Tribeca in order to send their children to the popular P.S. 234, only to find out that they could be rezoned and see the value of their homes fall. They heard concerns about changes to a longstanding policy of treating the West Village as a single zone shared by multiple schools. And they heard worries about the “sketchy” neighborhood that students might have to walk through to get from Tribeca to P.S. 3 in the West Village.

Together, the parents argued that the rezoning proposal did not meet downtown’s real needs: for the DOE to bring school zones in line with neighborhood boundaries, ensure students’ safety during their commutes, and build more schools in Lower Manhattan.

They also said that the rezoning proposal is inducing an identity crisis for Tribeca, whose name is based on having Canal Street as a northern boundary. The new plan would use North Moore Street, roughly five blocks away, as a school zone line, forcing families in the northern tip of Tribeca to make the trek above Canal Street to P.S. 3.

“By making this division, you are cutting Tribeca in half,” one parent said.

“It’s asking you not to be neighbors with your neighbors,” a later speaker echoed.

Lower Manhattan Rezoning Proposal Map B

And no matter how the zoning issues are resolved — in an iterative process that could take months — some speakers reminded the community that shifting zones was a temporary solution for a neighborhood that is bursting at the seams with new residential buildings and a rising birth rate.

Rezoning “is like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic,” said Tricia Joyce, a P.S. 234 parent. “The nose of the ship is going down and our children are on it.”

Michael Markowitz, CEC council member and co-chair of the zoning committee, agreed with Joyce’s metaphor: “No one should think that rezoning is anything other than making the life boats sink concurrently.”

The ultimate solution community members called for – well beyond the scope of what could have been resolved in a single evening and unlikely at a time of continuing budget cuts – was more school construction. One speaker got a head start on the hunt for real-estate, begging the DOE to place a bid on a foreclosed building across the street from his apartment.

“Quite frankly we don’t have the capital plan to build all of the seats we would like to build,” Rose said.

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