rumble in the pta

New rule: city can expel too-"aggressive" parents from PTAs

New York City is full of parents unafraid to say exactly what they think of their childrens’ schools, but the Department of Education is finding that all too often, that passion is getting out of control.

The DOE currently mediates parent-on-parent disputes two to three times a week, according to Chief Family Engagement Officer Martine Guerrier. She revealed the statistic at a Tuesday meeting of the citywide school board, which approved a regulation giving the department the right to boot parents from parent associations if they verbally abuse or physically threaten other members.

Guerrier said the regulation is needed because the department has little recourse against bullying that has caused intimidated and frightened parents to quit the parent associations at their schools.

But members of the Chancellor’s Parent Advisory Council, which represents parent associations across the city, said the regulation’s language is so vague that it could be used to curb parents’ speech.

“This vague and extremely broad language easily lends itself to abuse and inappropriately patronizes hard-working PA officers by treating them like squabbling kindergartners,” CPAC members wrote in an e-mail to Chancellor Joel Klein. “To the extent there are actual threats to the safety of others, they can be dealt with under existing law.” Reiterating their arguments yesterday, CPAC members asked the panel to delay its vote.

Reminding the assembled parents that he used to be a First Amendment lawyer, Klein said the regulation would only be used in clear cases of intimidation. His example: a parent saying, “I’ll wait for you outside,” during an association meeting.

Guerrier said the new rule is a necessary protection for parents.

“Parent association members felt they had to resign. … We have principals who are afraid to attend parent association meetings,” she said. “They would submit complaints but all we could offer was mediation.”

“There is no intent here to stop parents from being passionate or communicating loudly,” Guerrier said.

The city won’t expel parents from parent associations based on another parent’s report, Guerrier said. Instead, department officials will review each case and make a decision about whether to remove a parent by committee.

A similar proposal that was discussed in 2007 and never became an official rule would have allowed principals to expel parents from parent associations for “negative behavior.”

The rule reads:

PA or PC members whose conduct presents a threat or risk to members of the school, district or borough community may be removed from PA or PC office. This includes frequent verbal abuse and unnecessary aggressive speech during meetings, which serves to intimidate and causes others to have concern for their personal safety. PA or PC members who have been removed from office for their conduct may be prohibited from subsequently serving on any PA or PC executive board, school or district leadership team, school or district Title I Parent Advisory Council and CEC, CCSE, CCHS, or CCELL by the Chancellor, the Chancellor’s designee or the CFEO. Decisions to remove officers and restrict future service will be determined on a case-by-case basis by the Chancellor, the Chancellor’s designee or the CFEO.

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