by Christopher Paslay
It appears that the Philadelphia School District is finally getting serious about their “zero tolerance” policy for violence in schools. According to a story in today’s Inquirer, “Philadelphia School District officials have vowed to expel the system’s most violent students, tighten codes for others, and attempt to streamline a dysfunctional, inconsistent disciplinary system.”
“We mean business,” district CEO Arlene Ackerman said, vowing to enforce the zero-tolerance policy to the letter of the law. Yesterday, Ackerman sent out a letter to parents and students detailing this policy. The heart of her letter reads as follows:
Effective immediately, school administrators are required to suspend a student or group of students for 10 days with intent to expel when there is reasonable and probable grounds to believe that a student or group of students has:
–Assaulted an adult or another student
–Committed or incited an act of violence
–Possessed or has transported onto school property materials to utilize as potential weapons
If a student commits offenses in any of the aforementioned categories he/she will neither remain at his/her present school nor will be transferred to another district school. Instead, I will recommend that your students be immediately enrolled in an alternative school placement and, pending the result of an expulsion hearing by the School Reform Commission, will not be allowed to return to a district school for a minimum of one year. Expulsions may be permanent.
Mayor Nutter also supported this policy. “We collectively—the city and the school district—are saying enough is enough,” Nutter said. “How could no child have been expelled from the school system in four years is impossible for me to understand.”
No expulsions in four years is not so hard to understand when you teach inside the district. For starters, keeping tabs on suspensions and expulsions are part of the No Child Left Behind Act. In order for a school to make Adequate Yearly Progress, suspensions must be kept to a minimum; this might be why suspensions were never enforced.
Second, it’s people like Sheila Simmons, education director at Philadelphia Citizens for Children and Youth, who keep the school district’s zero-tolerance policy for violence stuck in neutral. Simmons believes the district should put its energy into preventing discipline problems before they start, not “throwing kids out” or “locking kids away”.
Although Simmons seems to mean well, she obviously doesn’t understand the dynamic involved in managing hundreds of students on a daily basis, and the fact that a line must be drawn in the sand. With the lack of parental and community involvement (and the overall moral degradation of urban society), a school can only give a child so many second chances; soon the education of the children who know how to follow rules and respect authority must be made a priority over the violent youth who continue to rob others of their right to learn.
Kudos to Dr. Ackerman, Mayor Nutter, and the SRC for making safety and discipline a priority in Philadelphia public schools. Now let’s see if we get results. The district can put its money where its mouth is and start by making an example of the 20 students who used violence against teachers, police officers and other students last week during a brawl at Sayre High School in West Philadelphia. The brawl supposedly started when school officials refused to admit students into the building because of dress code violations.
These students should be suspended expeditiously. And their hearings should be made public so others in the district can truly see that the Mayor and the SRC mean business.
Let’s ALL enforce our district’s policy of zero-tolerance for violence. Students, teachers and principals alike should stand up for safety and the rights of the children who want to learn, and stop allowing bullies and thugs to run our schools.