if at first you don't succeed

King unveils slate of new Common Core forums for parents

Less than a week after he called off parent meetings that he said were “co-opted by special interests,”  Commissioner John King announced a slate of new forums that will be moderated on different terms.

The new meetings, like the old ones, are meant to address concerns around the state’s transition to Common Core learning standards and the increased role of testing in schools, a contentious issue for parents who fear it’s leading to narrowed curriculum and instruction. A dozen of the meetings, which will begin in Albany on Oct. 24 and take place over six weeks, will be hosted in partnership with state lawmakers who will moderate the forums. Another four events will be broadcast on local public television stations with studio audiences.

The department didn’t release additional details for the meetings on Friday. None are planned for New York City, but a spokesman said the department was “looking to cover many more communities.”

After he canceled the meetings late last week, accusing outside groups of trying to derail the original purpose, King came under intense criticism from parents, teachers and lawmakers, with some calling for his resignation. They said the decision was just the latest move that showed King’s disinterest in hearing opposing views to his agenda.

“To me, the canceling of the forums was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” said Assemblyman Tom Abinanti, a Democrat from Westchester, one of the legislators who has called for King’s resignation. Abinanti called the forums “a step in the right direction” but said he still believed King should step down.

In a statement, King said the fresh slate of meetings would give parents a chance to discuss their concerns with him in a way that would not have been possible in the nixed meetings.

“We want the conversation to rise above all the noise and make sure parents understand the Common Core, and, just as important, we want to understand parents’ concerns,” King said in the statements.

Officials have sought to ease tensions in other ways. The state is proposing to allow students who take a high school-level math Regents exam to skip required eighth grade math tests, an attempt to cut back on “double testing” and which will need federal approval.

The state teachers union, which  called for a three-year moratorium on tying new Common Core state tests to teacher evaluations, said it will host its own set of meetings in the near future. Details aren’t yet set and a spokesman did not return requests for comment.

One meeting that King hasn’t canceled is a panel discussion next week with American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, who is backing the union’s bid to slow down the evaluation rollout. The theme of the event is “finding ‘Common Ground’ in moving the education reform conversation forward.”

Asked over email if she still planned to attend, Weingarten tool a veiled shot at King.

“Unless some emergency happens I don’t cancel what I have committed to do, no matter what the heat,” she said.

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

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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.