annals of transparency

City Council members to push city to release more special-ed stats

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Debra Zito was one of several parents at a Staten Island meeting this year who spoke about the need to improve special education services.

City Council members want the Department of Education to release more information about which students are receiving the special-education services they require — and which are not.

The City Council education committee is set to take up legislation that would require the city to release an annual report with details about how long students wait to be evaluated, and then receive, special services. The report would include the percentage of students “in full compliance” with their individualized learning plans and a breakdown of those statistics by students’ race, gender, English language learner status, and free or reduced-price lunch status.

Chalkbeat reported last week that the delivery of one type of special-education services varied widely by where students live. For students who live in Jamaica, Queens, 19 percent of those required services — including physical therapy and intensive counseling — were not being provided in June of last year. In parts of the South Bronx where the average median household income is $22,000, 10 percent of those services went unprovided. Just 1.5 percent of services went unprovided in the city’s five wealthiest ZIP codes.

Education committee chair Daniel Dromm said Tuesday that Council members wanted to know more about whether students are getting services and whether they were being evaluated in a timely manner. “There are many questions around that,” Dromm said.

The legislation would also require the release of information relevant to the city’s special-education reform effort, which has encouraged schools not to isolate students with special needs. The bill would require the city to report how many students receive special-education services in the classroom 100 percent of the time, a significant portion of their time, or a small portion of their time.

Advocates for Children of New York Executive Director Kim Sweet said her organization would lend its support to the bill, which she said could spur improvements to services for city students, when it is discussed next week.

“We will be testifying in support of the effort to make public the delays in service provision and to hold the DOE accountable for those delays,” Sweet said.

The new legislation is sponsored by Dromm, Public Advocate Letitia James, and eight other City Council members. A Department of Education spokesperson did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Patrick Wall contributed reporting. 

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

More in What's Your Education Story?

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.