IPS partnership to co-manage Emma Donnan in doubt

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Donnan Middle School was taken over by the state and handed off to be run by Charter Schools USA in 2012. The school now includes an elementary school in partnership with Indianapolis Public Schools.

A charter school company may be backing away from a plan that would return some control over Emma Donnan Middle School more than two years after it entered state takeover to Indianapolis Public Schools.

IPS Superintendent Lewis Ferebee said tonight that confusion over whether the Indiana State Board of Education is willing to hand back control of takeover schools to their home districts caused the Florida company to pitch an alternative plan that would instead give the state board direct oversight of an expansion at the South side school.

That would mean asking the state board to vote to allow Charter Schools USA to expand Emma Donnan into a K-8 school overseen by the state board. Under a less direct partnership, the school would still work with IPS and the district could count the school’s test scores under the state A to F accountability system. In return, IPS would help the charter school recruit students in lower grades to the school.

“CSUSA has changed a little in terms of their messaging on what the partnership may look like,” Ferebee told the IPS school board. “They’re probably responding to the state board. I personally would rather see us try to handle it together versus apart, but if we can’t get there, we can’t get there.”

Charter Schools USA, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment, first pitched partnering with the district to create an “innovation school” under under a law created last year by House Bill 1321. That law gives IPS special authority to create autonomous, charter-like schools under the district’s authority.

The company said under its proposal “takeover schools can be transitioned back to the school corporation over time without jeopardizing progress that has been made by the turnaround provider and without major disruption to the community.”

The IPS board informally backed that plan, since it would mean IPS would get back some control over a school that was taken over by the state for poor test performance in 2012 and formally severed from the district’s oversight But state board members balked at completely ending state takeover.

IPS’s attoreny, Hud Pfeiffer, said even though the school wouldn’t be considered an innovation school, IPS would still have more control if it backs the partnership.

Meanwhile, he noted, lawmakers are considering in House Bill 1638, which could expand state takeover. That bill, authored by Republican Rep. Bob Behning, passed the House Ways and Means committee today and could go to the House floor for a final vote this week.

Pfeiffer said talks are continuing, and the state board has the final say over what happens. IPS expects the state board to take up the matter at its March meeting.

Ferebee urged IPS board members to back even the slimmed down partnership — or he said the decision would likely be made for them.

“We’re at a point where we can either bring something to the State Board of Education or we can be uninvited from the conversation,” Ferebee said. “I think what we’re trying to do is be proactive to make sure we’re a part of the conversation. Based on the legislation that’s already been proposed, the train has already left the station. We need to decide at some point to make sure we are on board or not.”

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.