Colorado

Churchill loses appeal, Blue Ribbon schools

The Colorado Supreme Court on Monday handed former University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill his third straight courtroom defeat, ruling that he’s not entitled to back pay or to reinstatement in his position.

A district court and the Colorado Court of Appeals had previously ruled for the university and against Churchill.

The ethnic studies professor gained notoriety for an essay in which he compared victims of the World Trade Center attacks to Nazi official Adolph Eichmann. After the essay came to light in 2005, the CU Board of Regents launched an investigation into Churchill’s academic writings. After a lengthy investigation by faculty committees, the Regents fired Churchill for plagiarism and other violations of academic standards.

In 2009, a jury ruled that Churchill had been fired improperly but awarded him only $1 in damages. A Denver judge later set aside that verdict, ruling that the Regents were immune from the lawsuit. That set off the chain of appeals that went to the state supreme court.

David Lane, Churchill’s lawyer, said the case will be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, according to The Associated Press.

Read the high court’s summary and full decision.

→ Five Colorado schools are national Blue Ribbon award winners based on their academic performance, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has announced.

The schools are:

  • Avon Elementary School in Avon
  • Garnet Mesa Elementary School in Delta
  • Pear Park Elementary School in Grand Junction
  • Slavens K-8 School in Denver
  • Summit Middle Charter School in Boulder

“Our nation has no greater responsibility than helping all children realize their full potential,” Duncan said. “Schools honored with the National Blue Ribbon Schools award are committed to accelerating student achievement and preparing students for success in college and careers.”

The award honors public and private elementary, middle and high schools where students perform at very high levels or where significant improvements are being made in students’ levels of achievement.

The program recognizes schools in one of two performance categories. “Exemplary High Performing” schools are recognized among their state’s highest-performing schools as measured by state assessments or nationally-normed tests. “Exemplary Improving” schools have at least 40 percent of their students from disadvantaged backgrounds and demonstrate the most progress in improving student achievement levels as measured by state assessments or nationally-normed tests.

In all, 269 schools were recognized as 2012 National Blue Ribbon Schools.  A complete list is available at http://www.ed.gov/nationalblueribbonschools.

→ The Yes on 3A + 3 B campaign for Denver Public Schools tax proposals held a campaign kick-off event and press conference Sunday in front of West High School to promote the benefits of the district’s request for a $466 million bond issue and a $49 million increase for operating expenses.

Speakers included DPS School Board President Mary Seawell, board member Happy Haynes and Henry Roman, president of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association.

“The bond and mill measures represent the most critical projects that need to be funded to help our children attend schools in safe, modernized buildings and improved learning environments and have access to the kinds of programs and services that increase their academic achievement,” Seawell said. “All students will benefit, all schools will see a change.”

Combined, the typical Denver residential property owner would see an increase in their property taxes by $143 per year, or about $12 per month for a home valued at $225,000.

Read this EdNews story about the Denver school board’s 5-2 vote to place the measures on the Nov. 6 ballot. Find information on Yes on 3A + 3B at www.yeson3A3B.com or follow @Yeson3A3B campaign on Twitter and “Yes on 3A + 3B” 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.

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 cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

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