special education

Council members push forward on special education transparency

PHOTO: Brian Charles
City Council education committee chair Danny Dromm speaks at the March 10 meeting of the committee. Dromm pushed for the law requiring the Department of Education to produce annual special education reports.

Parents and advocates may soon have a lot more information about how the city delivers special-education services.

The City Council’s education committee passed a bill Tuesday that would require the Department of Education to release annual reports detailing what percentage of students are getting the special-education services they require. The full Council is expected to approve the bill this week, chair Daniel Dromm said.

The reports, which would include city wide and district-level data, would show how long students wait to be evaluated, and then receive, special-education services; the percentage of students “in full compliance” and “in partial compliance” with their individualized learning plans;and  a breakdown of those statistics by students’ race, gender, English language learner status, grade, and free or reduced-price lunch status.

The bill, first introduced in October, is meant to “shine a light on the services being provided and get some accountability in hopes we can have a broader further conversations about special education,” Dromm said.

The bill has the support of the Department of Education. The department has been expanding special education reforms meant to decrease the number of students kept separate from their general-education peers for close to five years, but the conversation around the changes has not being coupled with much available data, a point of contention for advocates of special needs students.

Last fall, Chalkbeat reported on wide disparities in the delivery of  “related services,” a type of special-education support that includes occupational therapy, physical therapy, and help for sight or hearing problems.

For example, 19 percent of students in Jamaica, Queens had not received the services they required. In portions of the South Bronx, 10 percent of students hadn’t been provided their required services. However, in the city’s five wealthiest zip codes, just 1.5 percent of the students requiring special education services, went unserved.

Special education advocates contend the annual reporting could provide needed context on how the department can improve its assessment and implementation of services for special education students.

“We want to find out what the sticky points are in the process. Where are kids not getting services and where are they getting the wrong services?” said Maggie Moroff, special education policy coordinator at Advocates for Children New York. “If the [department] is required to share this information publicly then anyone can draw their own conclusions, they can draw their own advocacy points.”

The city’s first report would be released on Feb. 29, 2016 and include details on the delivery of special education services for the 2014-15 school year. Subsequent reports would be released annually on Nov. 1.

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.