No new numbers

Council hearing sheds dim light on special education reforms

Leroy Comrie, a councilman from Queens, speaks at NYC Parents Union rally before the city council hearing.

After months of waiting to hear the results of a pilot program for the city’s special education reforms, many advocates hoped they would finally get some answers today at a City Council hearing. But when Department of Education officials sat down to testify, there were few revelations.

It’s not that the DOE was witholding any new information. It was just that no such data yet existed, said Laura Rodriguez, the outgoing Deputy Chancellor of Special Education.

Rodriquez said they had so far collected data for only a couple of measures – such as attendance and the rate of movement of students with special needs into general education settings – and that they hadn’t focused on other key metrics. Advocates say that other important measures of success include suspension rates and parent surveys.

The reforms will increase the number of special education students who attend district schools, and their inclusion in general education classrooms. The DOE initially planned to implement the reforms for the 2011-2012 year, but delayed them last year, in part to look at results from the pilot.

Robert Jackson, the chair of the education committee, began the hearing with concerns about the limits of the data that the department had so far offered about the programs. He said that attendance, which did not improve, and higher rates of general education inclusion, were not helpful for evaluating whether the reforms were working.

Rodriguez, who will be replaced by Corinne Rello-Anselmi next month, said the department plans to look at data about the number of suspensions for the current school year. She said they will also develop parental surveys that will determine levels of parental with the reforms.

The city is currently in the second year of a two-year pilot taking place in 260 schools. Many special education advocacy groups support the principles that are guiding the reforms – mainly, that students with special needs thrive in general education settings. But nearly two years since the pilot started, many are unsatisfied with the amount of data gained from it. Teachers union officials have aired concerns that the reforms, which reward schools with funding for moving students into less restrictive environments, could lead to abuse.

Officials from several parent groups and five city council members spoke at a rally before the hearing.

“Show us the data, or we’ll see you in court,” said Mona Davids, of the New York City Parents Union.

United Federation of Teachers vice president Carmen Alvarez called for the reforms to be slowed down in her testimony. She said she believed the 260 schools participating in the first phase of the reforms – the pilot – deserved greater scrutiny before it is fully implemented.

“We need to investigate,” she said.  ”We have to really continue to look at Phase 1. Don’t forget them. See what more can we learn.”

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.