Casual Sunday IPS board meeting or 'travesty' of public access?

PHOTO: Hayleigh Colombo
IPS board members talk at a public work session.

It was supposed to be a different kind of meeting for the Indianapolis Public School Board — a casual Sunday afternoon work session for the board to hash out a shared vision for the ‘school autonomy’ it has promised.

Casual it was — board members at times joked around and a sweatshirt-clad Superintendent Lewis Ferebee helped them set up before promptly leaving — but the meeting didn’t go as planned.

Because they met without staff, the board’s secretary wasn’t there to take her usual notes. So board members decided a reporter’s recording could suffice as a substitute. And without the microphones they normally use, some of the 15 or so people who attended complained that they couldn’t hear. In the audience were representatives from the teachers union and a union that represents maintenance workers.

The issues didn’t stop there.

Despite a warning from board president Diane Arnold that board members would not be taking questions or comments from the audience, one person yelled out his own ideas as the board tried to craft a vision statement.

Radio host Amos Brown of WTLC’s Amos in the Afternoons tweeted that the meeting was “disrespectful to the public” because audience members couldn’t hear board members.

“None of us can hear a word IPS Board members saying,” Brown tweeted under the handle @AmosWTLCIndy. “Travesty of (a) public meeting.”

Those concerns resulted in a back-and-forth between board members Gayle Cosby and Kelly Bentley. Cosby asked if the board should try to figure out a way to hook up a microphone so the audience could hear better. Bentley said the public could move their chairs up if they couldn’t hear the conversation.

There was also tension between board members about how the meeting would be reported.

“Did you just say you hope people aren’t blogging about this?” Cosby, who recently started a blog about school board issues, asked Bentley.

Bentley said she didn’t mean that.

“I hope people (who) are writing about this are fair because we’re just trying to have a conversation,” Bentley said.

Board members have made it clear they want principals to have more control of decisions about their schools. But how far that authority should extend is the question. Board members debated whether principals should have control over decisions like the budget, hiring, school calendars, building maintenance and more. No final decisions were made.

There was also discussion, however, of scrapping the board’s new principal selection process.

Cosby said the board should keep in place the process it approved last year designed to give school communities more of a say in picking principals. But Bentley and board member Caitlin Hannon said that makes it difficult to hold Ferebee accountable for the school’s performance. The community should be involved in other ways, they said.

And board members said they want teachers to have more control over curriculum and what happens in their classrooms.

Most board members said teachers face too many barriers to deliver lessons as they see fit. Instead, they said, teachers are held to strict guides that dictate what is taught and when. That takes the creativity out of teaching, board members said.

Board member Mary Ann Sullivan said the board should instead seek to limit the frequent student transfers that prompted those teaching guides.

“I think we’re trying to solve the wrong end of the problem,” Sullivan said.

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.