Shelby board approves plan to keep students after municipalities break off

Shelby County’s school board proceeded with a controversial plan Monday to keep more than a thousand students and four schools from being absorbed by six municipal districts set to open next school year.

The board voted 5-1 to approve a resolution that would allow the superintendent to lease several buildings to the municipalities. The resolution also allows the administration to begin planning to serve more than 1,000 students who live in Memphis but attend schools in the municipalities.

Board members devised the plan to cushion the financial blow that a separation between six municipalities and the county system would cause. Shelby administrators estimate they would lose at least $52 million if the six municipalities split next year. By holding on to the students, Shelby would also hold on to the per-pupil funding that follows them.

Board member David Pickler voted against the resolution and board member David Reaves abstained from the vote. Pickler, Reaves, and dozens of Germantown residents in attendance Monday argued that the public didn’t have enough time to vet the resolution and express their opinion before the board voted.

Germantown will be most affected by the resolution. While the majority of schools within municipal limits will be handed over to the new districts, four schools in Germantown, including its high school, would remain under Shelby County’s control under the plan.

“This will tear Germantown apart,” said Audrey Grossman, a Germantown resident.  “You’re creating a school without a community and you’re making it less racially and economically diverse.”

The administration argued last week that the majority of students in the Germantown schools actually live in Memphis and unincorporated areas around Germantown. It would cause less disruption to retain control over those schools, they said.

Dorsey Hopson, Shelby’s superintendent, said Monday he would allow Germantown students to continue attending the schools and that the district would invest more than $9 million in capitol improvements to the high school.

“We’ll continue to listen to Germantown leaders if they have different points of view,” Hopson said.

But Germantown residents weren’t pleased. After hissing and booing at the superintendent and the board, the residents — mostly clad in red — left the meeting in a huff as soon as the vote was tallied.

“We’re going to have successful municipal schools however they’re composed,” said Germantown Mayor Sharon Goldsworthy.

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.