De Blasio will offer public space to some charter schools

Staff from Amber Charter School greet Mayor Bill de Blasio on a visit in September.

Updated 8:17 p.m. — The de Blasio administration will offer public school space to four charter schools, officials announced Wednesday, signaling an end to a space-sharing moratorium in place since de Blasio took office in January.

The schools include two Success Academy charter schools run by former City Council Member Eva Moskowitz, a political rival of de Blasio who has fought him over his space-sharing policies for months. The announcement is the first sign of how his administration will handle the state’s new charter-school law, which requires the city to provide new and growing charter schools with space in city-owned buildings or with rent money to operate in private space.

Establishing a “moratorium” on school co-locations has always been more of a campaign pledge for de Blasio than a concrete policy. In just his second month in office, de Blasio announced eight new space-sharing plans along with the framework of a process for gaining public feedback about the proposals. But the plans weren’t controversial and city officials said they would continue to hold off on more disruptive proposals.

Today’s announcement did not include details about where the schools would actually be located, or any details about the new co-location process that de Blasio has promised. And city officials said their timing was mostly motivated by a Thursday deadline to respond to requests for public space from the first two schools, Bronx Success Academy III and Bed-Stuy Success Academy I. Both elementary schools’ space-sharing plans, first approved by the Bloomberg administration, will expire at the end of the year.

“We’re encouraged that the administration wants to work with public charter schools and make sure parents have great options for their children, regardless of zip code,” Moskowitz said in a statement. “We look forward to getting more details.”

De Blasio has been outspoken about his objection to former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s approach to siting charter schools in city-owned buildings, which critics said ignored feedback from parents and teachers at the affected schools. He also said he thought charter schools in public space should pay rent, and vowed that no new plans would be proposed until the city improved the process.

The passage of the new law, led by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, was in part a rebuke of the mayor’s agenda, which some saw more as an effort to curtail the growth of charter schools. It also created a new dilemma for de Blasio, whose administration is now required to provide space or funding for it.

After legislation was enacted in April, charter schools began sending letters to the Department of Education requesting space in public schools. De Blasio could have ignored the requests, opting instead to pay for the schools to operate in private facilities. By telling charter schools that they’ll get access to city-owned buildings next year, de Blasio signaled that he’s willing to include them in his space-sharing vision for city’s 1,100-building school system.

In addition to the Success schools, the city said it would work to provide public space for two other schools that submitted requests in April: Bronx Charter School for Better Learning II, one of at least six approved to open next year, and Launch Expeditionary Learning Charter School in Brooklyn, which opened in 2012 but has run out of space in its current building. Both are members of the Coalition of Community Charter Schools, a group with much closer ties to de Blasio.

“This is another really good step forward and we’re very happy for the students these schools serve,” said New York City Charter School Center CEO James Merriman, whose organization has published guidance to help schools interpret the new legislation. “We’re confident we can make this law work for everyone.”

The city did tell one school that public space was not a possibility. Global Community Charter School, a school operating in private space in Harlem, was denied space because there was not enough room in city-owned buildings in the district, officials said.

Department officials have said that as many as two dozen charter schools had requested co-locations by July, including some schools in private space that are still adding grades. De Blasio will soon have to respond to space requests from those schools, as well as requests from at least 16 schools planning to open in 2015.


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.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede