How far do we go in the name of “safety”? That’s the question Parents United would like answered in the wake of two recently surfaced incidents of pepper spray used against students inside of Philadelphia schools.
Last week one media outlet reported that pepper spray had been used against students to “disperse a crowd” during a fight at Benjamin Franklin High School in October. The incident went completely unreported at the time. This week the Philadelphia Public School Notebook confirmed at least one additional incident of pepper spray used against a student. As a result of these news articles, Parents United has issued a call for an investigation into the use of pepper spray and any chemical agent against students.
This call for an investigation is not about condoning violence or harassment in schools. It’s about building safe AND responsible climates as we work with young children and students in schools. It’s important to remember that District policy prohibits the use of pepper spray and chemical agents inside of school buildings. It is critical that we develop responsible policies governing and reviewing the use of such force against juveniles, in front of and amidst their peers who may also be impacted.
The American Civil Liberties Union has documented a number of fatalities as the result of pepper spray in particular, and has called for a ban on the use of tasers and pepper spray in Texas schools. Meanwhile, National Public Radio has documented high rates of pepper spray used against students in Alabama. The use of pepper spray is unregulated and undefined in Alabama schools, which some observers has said is a major problem. We need to learn lessons from other states about the responsible use of force.
Parents United met with Philadelphia Police Chief Charles Ramsey and Chief Safety Officer Carl Holmes in November to communicate parent concerns and priorities around school climate and safety. We will continue to address this issue with the appropriate school district and city officials.
We welcome your thoughts on this issue.
Parents United for Public Education calls for investigation into use of pepper spray at local high school
Parents United for Public Education has serious concerns about the alleged use of pepper spray at two local high schools and asks the School Reform Commission and the School District of Philadelphia to investigate and make public any findings regarding this alleged use.
The use of any chemical agent inside a building is of grave concern for all of us as parents. The use of chemical agents against students does not de-escalate a situation. Instead it creates panic and adds to greater chaos and disruption. It indiscriminately targets students regardless of whether they are involved in an incident and does not distinguish between aggressors and victims. In a District where a number of students suffer from serious asthma and other respiratory ailments and where medical personnel are scarce or nonexistent, the use of chemical agents within a building poses a massive health and safety risk to all who are involved.
We ask the School District to publicly clarify its exact policies and procedures around the use of pepper spray or any type of chemical agent within school buildings by itself or any of its partners, including the Philadelphia Police Department. Parents should know what ages of students may be targeted, what types of situations warrant such use, and what medical attention will be provided when such tactics are deployed. We also ask the District to document any use pepper spray by School Police or Philadelphia Police Department within school buildings against students in the last three years.
If Philadelphia Police Department officers made a decision to use pepper spray, we ask that the District make clear to the PPD its policies around the use of chemical agents inside school buildings, require a full investigation and public documentation of such use, and reach a public agreement with PPD on its policies in schools.
As parents, our top priority is the safety of all students in our schools. Parents United’s work is focused on the development of healthy safe learning environments. We do not tolerate violence or harassment of any kind in schools. At the same time, we must be vigilant that the tactics we use contribute to building safe and responsible school climates for all students. We look forward to working with you on this effort.
Houston Chronicle: “Civil rights groups want taser ban in Texas schools”
National Public Radio: “High rates of pepper spraying in Alabama school district”
American Civil Liberties Union report on fatalities and concerns with pepper spray used on students in schools.