space debates

City officials discuss proposed P.E. transparency bill

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

Department of Education officials pushed back Wednesday as members of the City Council debated a bill that would require the city to release more information about students’ access to physical education.

The bill, introduced by Council member Elizabeth Crowley in February, would force the city to produce an annual report that would include data on the number of full-time, certified physical education teachers, the average frequency and amount of physical education provided for each grade level in each school, and the facilities each school uses for those classes.

This bill is a reaction to the reality that many city schools fall short of state requirements for keeping students active. In May, Comptroller Scott Stringer found problems with the way the education department reported how long students spent in physical education and where the classes were located. That report found that 32 percent of schools do not have a full-time certified physical education teacher on staff, and 29 percent do not have a designated space for the class. (A 2011 audit also found dismal compliance rates, and the city promised then to better inform principals of state requirements.)

“This is a health crisis unfolding right before our eyes and it’s affecting our children,” Crowley said. “Our schools are just not making the cut.”

At Wednesday’s hearing, city officials acknowledged that some schools don’t have the dedicated gym space that many students and teachers prefer, and that the city needs more certified physical education teachers, especially in elementary schools. Deputy Chancellor of Operations Elizabeth Rose said that while the city is already working to improve gym access, the city supports the bill’s goals, though she said she wanted to ensure that new reporting requirements wouldn’t place an unnecessary “burden on schools.”

“We believe in a comprehensive approach to supporting wellness,” Rose said. “We have already been working on training teachers and helping schools use whatever available space they have.”

State law requires that elementary school students participate in physical education for at least 120 minutes per week. Students in grades 7-12 must be taught by a certified physical education teacher, while elementary students can be taught by a classroom teacher under the supervision of a certified physical education teacher.

For Rafaela Vivaldo, a parent who attended the Council hearing, schools’ lack of space and equipment is the biggest problem.

Vivaldo’s nine-year-old son attends P.S. 19 in Corona, Queens, where she said he is often sent to the school auditorium to watch movies with his class during physical education time because the school’s gym is overcrowded and low on equipment.

“It doesn’t make sense for a child to face obesity at such a young age,” Vivaldo said in Spanish. “This bill could really help children get active and feel more motivated in the classroom.”

Chancellor Carmen Fariña acknowledged similar concerns at a parent forum in May, citing lack of available gym space as a problem for schools citywide.

“This is an issue that is of great concern for us,” Fariña said. “Obesity, nutrition, these are all things that we have on our plate. The reality is, that it’s one of the few things that I feel that sometimes, private schools have over us.”

She mentioned that city officials had looked into building more gym spaces on school roofs but found that to be prohibitively expensive. Instead, the city has encouraged school custodians to shovel snow earlier to ensure more school yards were useable in winter, increased dance and yoga classes available for students, and is looking to add high school sports programs.

“This does not have an easy solution,” Fariña said.

Note: This story was updated to more clearly explain the city’s position on the bill and its reporting requirements.

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.