TO: Mayor Kenney, City Council, Superintendent William Hite, current SRC Members, and the soon-to-be selected Board of Education
FROM: Parents United for Public Education
In the aftermath of another horrific school massacre, I thought a review of the current school district of Philadelphia active shooter policy was in order. I wish I could talk about it, but such a policy does not exist for Philadelphia district schools.
A search of the district’s new impossibly difficult to navigate website yielded no result. (I will continue to complain about the website.) A search of the Office of School Safety yielded several emergency procedures listed in the FAQS (frequently asked questions), but none that were unique to an actual active shooter scenario. It should be noted that policies and procedures are not the same thing. Policies exist to provide clear concise statements of how any organization intends to conduct its action, service, or business. Procedures describe how policies are put into action.
So…after Columbine (1999), Sandy Hook (2012) school massacres, and all of those in between, the School District of Philadelphia does not have a formal policy to delineate a solid cohesive comprehensive approach to an active shooter event? Now, we are living in the aftermath of another school shooting (Parkland 2018) where 17 lives were extinguished, 15 people were physically injured, and the entire school community traumatized.
Two weeks ago, a gun was found in Wagner Middle school, later found to be a toy; a young man with a gun attempted to enter Mastery – Douglass . Last Tuesday, Feb 27 loaded gun was brought to Samuel Fels High School by a 15 year old freshman. The possibility of another horrific event in Philadelphia is very real.
Schools throughout Philadelphia practice lockdown procedures that apparently would be used in an active shooter event. Each principal submits a safety plan that would theoretically address this issue. Is that enough? For many teachers, the lockdown procedure involves some variations of: locking the classroom doors, pulling down a shade over the glass, stacking desks across the door frame, and sit quietly in a group away from windows and the door. There are several problems with this general plan.
- To complete the lockdown procedures, many doors have an outside keylock. Teachers have to open their doors, stand out in the halls to key the lock, leaving them vulnerable to being shot by anyone in the hall. What about rooms that do not have a lock?
- Many doors have large glass fronts. Some have narrow glass panes. Some are covered with loose fitting plexiglass or cardboard from a previous glass break without replacement. None are shatterproof or bulletproof. There is nothing to protect those in those rooms from harm if an offender breaks the glass, reaches in, and opens the door.
- Piling desks up does not prevent entry to a room when the door swings out.
- Sitting quietly – how does that work in rooms with scared children who are scared or those with have learning and/or emotional differences?
All of the above options leave our students, teachers, and staff at risk of serious injury or much worse. Why would we engage in these actions, especially when they traumatize the children and highlight their vulnerability, if none would prevent the carnage seen in even the latest schools shooting?
The lack of a “standardized” unified plan to ensure that our children are safe in their schools is unconscionable. It is not ok that such events are rare. What we understand is that the district doesn’t think enough our children to even come up with a clear, actionable plan.
What is the answer? Is anyone listening to teachers and parents?
Prevention involves more than metal detectors and police presence. Serious attention is needed to incorporate anti-bullying curriculum and culture in our schools. We have programs like Second Step, but are they being utilized? This district has stated its commitment to restorative programs and practices, but frequently they are not resourced. Schools are not programming with fidelity that is required to make an actual change.
Our children require more counselors and less police in our schools. District states its understanding of trauma informed practices, but still has not resourced the counseling staff in any attempt to address the mental health needs of our students. Police continue to have an adversarial relationship with students; esp at risk high school populations. Our students need more attention and access to mental health assistance and less punitive relationships with law enforcement.
Building a strong safe school community involves increased outreach to parents. Our schools have long been shut off to parents in the name of safety. If anything, police have been used by the School District of Philadelphia to keep parents and community members out of schools and administration offices.
However, school communities that actively encourage parent and community involvement, and listen to student voices are safer, engaging, and great places to learn. Our schools must foster a culture that respects all students and supports them in speaking up.
At the very least, our schools deserve to be at least safe for our children. Our children deserve to be safe in their schools. This is not too much to ask. Parents United for Public Education demands that The School District of Philadelphia immediately develop a comprehensive emergency policy and actionable procedures that would address an active shooter event in a way that will potentially save lives. Our children need actual safety to allow them to receive a full and vibrant education. The appearance of safety is not acceptable.