Opening Day

For Mulgrew's first school visit of the year, a relocated PS 51

Teachers union president Michael Mulgrew talks with teachers from P.S. 51 in the Bronx

For his first school visit of the new year, United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew chose P.S. 51, where teachers and students recently learned they were exposed to a toxic chemical.

The Bronx school abruptly relocated this summer in the wake of news that high levels of a toxic chemical had been detected at its former building. The new location, chosen just three weeks ago, is a stone building that until June housed a Catholic school. Now a sign for P.S. 51 sits atop a freshly-painted red front door.

As teachers around the city began sprucing up their classrooms and planning their first lessons, P.S. 51 teachers spent last week hauling supplies to their new building and reassuring families at an open house.

Moving “was a huge task. The teachers were working tirelessly last week,” said Eileen Bernstein, the UFT chapter leader who has taught at P.S. 51 for two decades.

Rick Romain, another P.S. 51 teacher, said he was grateful that the school was able to stay together instead of being dispersed across multiple sites. But he said there were some downsides to the move. “Some kids are a little afraid to get on the school buses,” he said. “Some parents are inconvenienced because they have to find a way to get to work.”

Mulgrew sat with teachers in the school’s basement cafeteria for close to an hour this morning. Speaking to reporters afterwards, Mulgrew repeated his criticism of the Department of Education for failing to test the school’s building, and 31 other sites, for trichloroethylene, a carcinogen.

“There is an obligation on behalf of the city to make sure that every school site is safe for children,” he said.

He said the union wants teachers who worked in the building, where students were said to frequently complain of headaches and breathing problems, to be monitored over time for medical conditions: “To not have that monitoring would be irresponsible.” 

Mulgrew planned to continue his first-day-of-school tour this afternoon at Grady High School, which he chose because it was one of the first schools to undergo “transformation” as part of a federal program to improve low-performing schools last year (and also the school where he began his teaching career). He also has plans to visit a couple of schools in Washington Heights and PS 257 in Brooklyn on Thursday.

But he said his goal is primarily to listen, not to send a specific message to teachers.

“It’s about their concerns and needs—not what I have to say to them but what they have to say to me.”

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

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.