on notice

New charter school put on probation; closure decisions deferred

The six charter schools the Department of Education deemed so weak that they could be closed won’t be shuttered — for now.

But the department put a seventh school, New York French American Charter School, on probation for what it said were “serious violations” of state law and its own charter that could have left students unsafe.

The notice of probation sent by the DOE’s Charter Schools Office to NYFACS’s board yesterday lists concerns about the school’s financial stability, discipline procedures, teacher certification, academic instruction, and safety practices. It notes that the school is already late in producing audited financial statements for the last year.

“The school has no established financial controls and operational policies; the termination of one Operations Director and the hiring of a replacement has left the school in operational disarray,” reads the report, which also notes that the school has few books and that a parent volunteer with keys to the building had reportedly taken to sleeping in the school overnight.

The DOE set a series of deadlines, starting this month, for NYFACS to improve its internal operations and bring itself into compliance with state law. If it does not meet the requirements, it could be closed before the next school year begins.

Three of the charter schools that had already been put on notice will be allowed to continue to operate until their charters come up for renewal, DOE officials said today. Those schools are Academic Leadership Charter School, Bronx Academy of Promise, and Future Leaders Institute Charter School, and they will all be monitored closely.

Two other schools, Opportunity Charter School and Peninsula Preparatory Charter School, are up for renewal this year. Decisions about whether the department will suggest that they be allowed to stay in operation will be made by the renewal application deadline next week, officials said.

A decision on what to do about the sixth school on the shortlist, Williamsburg Charter High School, will depend on how its board addresses the terms of its probation, DOE officials said. Two weeks ago, as a condition of the probation, the board dissolved the school’s relationship with its network, Believe, but said it was not happy about taking that step.

Here’s the letter informing NYFACS that it was being put on probation:

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.