IPS board members spar over school autonomy

PHOTO: Creative Commons
Residents in the Munger Elementary School neighborhood will receive hundreds of books over the next three years to build better reading skills in youngsters.

The seven members of the Indianapolis Public School Board don’t expect everyone to agree about how exactly the school autonomy they have promised for the district should be defined.

But even naming a committee to gather consensus on the topic prompted angry words and accusations tonight during a school board meeting.

School board President Diane Arnold said each member could probably come up with their own idea of the best way to reduce bureaucracy and give more control of running IPS schools to their principals.

But when Arnold announced she was naming a new committee to develop ideas about the best way for IPS to pursue autonomy the trouble started.

Board members Mary Ann Sullivan and Sam Odle, Superintendent Lewis Ferebee, two principals, a teacher and other administrators were selected.

Missing from the list: board member Gayle Cosby.

Cosby, who is often at odds with Arnold, was peeved.

Cosby said she was blindsided to be excluded even though she asked to be part of discussions involving autonomy.

“You are purposely being exclusionary of certain board members,” Cosby told Arnold at the meeting.

Arnold said she wanted to keep the group small and invite people who would be affected by the changes. She said other board members and the public will have the opportunity to provide feedback after the group makes its recommendation.

“The board will have the opportunity to discuss it and comment and provide input at that time,” Arnold said. “If the board says no, we’ll figure out something else to do.”

Cosby said she thought the board should develop more concrete ideas about what it wants before autonomy questions were handed off to another group to research. The board met at a casual Sunday meeting in March about the subject but no final decisions were made.

“The seven of us are tasked with driving the future of this district,” Cosby said. “If we cannot come together to define this critical concept that’s driving everything that we’re working on, I don’t hold much hope for the future.”

Arnold insisted leaving Cosby out was not personal.

“If we didn’t want it to be transparent we wouldn’t have announced it at a public meeting,” Arnold said. “We’ve never had a better opportunity to turn this district around. If we don’t do it, shame on us. We have to move.”

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.