Dr. Hite’s Plan is Light on School Safety

by Christopher Paslay

Dr. Hite cannot “reset” the School District until the problem of school violence is realistically addressed.   

Action Plan v1.0, the Philadelphia School District’s latest reform blueprint for “resetting” our city’s troubled school system, is exactly 33 pages in length.  There are two main “anchor” goals contained within the plan: to improve academic outcomes for students, and return financial stability to the School District.  Most of the fuss up to this point has been about the ways the District plans on balancing its finances.  Here’s a closer look the academic side of things.

Listed in the plan are five strategies to improve student learning.  Contained within these strategies are 45 “actions.”  Of these 45 actions, one targets safety and climate.  On the bottom half of page 15 the plan states:

A. Improve school safety and climate. Reduce violent incidents, enhance climates for learning, and establish a culture of acceptance and respect in all schools by strategically implementing and sustaining evidence-based school-wide climate and culture programs, and training school administrators on creating safe and constructive climates.

The way to achieve this is through “restorative practices.” The plan states:

Fortunately, we know that when holistic climate and culture programs are embraced by an entire school community and sustained year after year, these challenges can be overcome. The significant drop in violence and suspensions at West Philadelphia High School following implementation of restorative practices in 2008 is one compelling example of the impact of this type of approach.

The plan cites a 2009 study from the International Institute of Restorative Practices Graduate School to show that restorative practices are a cutting edge, data-driven way to deal with safety and climate issues.  At West Philadelphia High School, serious incidents were down 52% in 2007–2008 compared to 2006–2007, and there were only two fire-alarm pulls; according to the report, “two very small pieces of paper were set on fire.”

Serious incidents at West Philadelphia may have been cut in half because of restorative practices; or they may have been down simply because only half as many were actually reported.  Regardless, Dr. Hite’s reform plan and the success of restorative practices must be examined in a much broader context.

Consider these facts: From 2005-06 through 2009-10, the district reported 30,333 serious incidents.  There were 19,752 assaults, 4,327 weapons infractions, 2,037 drug and alcohol related violations, and 1,186 robberies.  Students were beaten by their peers in libraries and had their hair pulled out by gangs in the hall.  Teachers were assaulted over 4,000 times.

In the 2007-08 school year alone, there were nearly 15,000 criminal incidents reported in Philadelphia public schools.  According to data published in the Inquirer, 1,728 students assaulted teachers, 479 weapons were discovered inside elementary and middle school hallways and classrooms, and 357 weapons were found in high schools.

Tragically, almost half of the most serious cases were not reported to police.  Inquirer reporter Kristen Graham wrote that “the most serious offenders—including those who assaulted teachers—were neither expelled nor transferred to alternative education.”  She also added: “Just 24 percent of the 1,728 students who assaulted teachers were removed from regular education classrooms, and only 30 percent of them were charged by police . . .”

Anyone familiar with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs understands that until safety and security needs are met, a “system of excellent schools” is but a pipedream.

Unfortunately, Dr. Hite and the School District recently revised its student code of conduct and have eased-up on discipline; under the guise of racial inequality, suspensions and expulsions of persistently unruly students are now frowned upon.

Loose translation: the rights of the violent few are more important than the rights of the hardworking many.

Until the fundamental issue of school safety and climate is legitimately addressed—not with feel good “restorative practices” and politically correct positive behavior supports, but with real alternative school placements—the goals outlined in Dr. Hite’s Action Plan v1.0 will never come to fruition.

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