It can happen here. Are we ready?

OPEN LETTER

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.

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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.

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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.

The “Poor People’s Campaign and its connection to local control 50 years later

MLK Day Speech, Kendra Brooks

Prepared for POWER’s A People’s Call to Action

January 15, 2018

 

Four years ago, my community won a fight for public education in this city. This was a fight between the haves and the have-nots for control of a community treasure — a “school”– Edward T. Steel school. Since then, it has become my mission to continue to educate myself and other parents and fight until all of our children have quality education in our neighborhoods.  Today, as we celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. King, we can no longer be quiet — we must ORGANIZE. Fifty years after the launch of the Poor People’s Campaign, we are still fighting injustice at the hands of the government and corporations against the poor. We still need dignified education, housing, jobs, and healthcare.

Dr. King said, “The only real revolutionary, people say, is a man who has nothing to lose. There are millions of poor people in this country who have very little, or even nothing, to lose. If they can be helped to take action together, they will do so with a freedom and a power that will be a new and unsettling force in our complacent national life.” The Trumpet of Conscience, 1967

We the people, in the poorest big city in America, have nothing to lose! And we must help each other to take action together. In the City of Brotherly Love there has been a decades-long intentional defunding of public education affecting the most vulnerable children in our city and still, some chose to stay silent while the powers-that-be closed schools in primarily poor, black and brown communities leaving blight – “the new phase of redlining” – to usher in gentrification and the displacement of families again in the name of reform and redevelopment. As we enter the final months of the state-controlled School Reform Commission, We the people, call for A People’s School Board that instead reflects the true stakeholders and diversity of our schools

In a city where the essential needs of children are put second to militarism and policing in schools; Where we add more police and eliminate social workers, counselors, and nurses. We the people call for a People’s School Board to challenge the district for staffing eliminations that cost a child’s life. We the people call for a People’s School Board to demand city and state government to fund the restoration or replacement of school buildings that are contaminated with lead, mold and asbestos or are falling apart and stay silent while they build more prisons.  

WE the people Call for a People’s School Board – ready to fight for fair funding, for an end to the school to prison pipeline, and for teacher of color recruitment efforts. 

In a city where corporations have turned our schools into condos, recreation resorts, investments hubs and training camps for industry but refuse to pay their fair share in taxes to support our children’s academic enrichment that includes critical thinking, problem solving, and culturally relevant curriculum. Where taxing the poor and working class has become common practice and the rich or top earners receive tax cuts and abatements. Where the local pay-to-play $100k deficit outweighs the much needed debate about funding both local and state to end the education gap between the rich and poor.  WE the people call for – A People’s School Board free of conflicts of interest and monetary gains.

 

This is a call to action! What are you doing with your POWER ?

 

Join us – I charge you to call for The People’s School Board.  Nothing about us without us!

Statement on the Dissolution of the School Reform Commission

 

Parents United for Public Education celebrates Mayor Kenney’s announcement that the School Reform Commission will dissolve, returning our public schools to local control. We applaud the Mayor for joining grassroots parents, students, and teachers of Philadelphia by standing on the right side of history.

This is a historic victory for the wellbeing and dignity of our children, families, and communities. We’ve proven that an independent, organized and engaged set of parents can win victories like the one we’re witnessing here today.

Parents United for Public Education, a proud coalition member of the Our City, Our Schools campaign, has spent many years organizing for this moment. We believe this is a powerful step in a positive direction towards true community control of our schools.

This moment comes after 16 years of passionate organizing and community action to shine a light on the failures of the state-takeover of the Philadelphia School District. We’re committed to repair the harm the School Reform Commission has caused by pressing towards an elected school board in Philadelphia. Just like every other county and school district in Pennsylvania, Philadelphians deserve to democratically elect the governing body of our children’s education.  

Parents United calls on the next local school board to stand with us to unapologetically fight for funding equity and restored life-affirming staff and programs in our schools. We call on the next local school board to take a clear stand against a privatization agenda where wealthy interests capitalize on our youth, our parents, and our communities. We call for a People’s Board.

 

Philadelphia’s Filthy Schools Continue

Philadelphia public schools have a long history of neglected hazards and deferred maintenance.  For many years Philadelphia’s school children have had to exist and try to learn in conditions where the air is contaminated with mold spores, water fountains are lead contaminated, schools are unable to control the internal temperatures, asbestos exposures and rodent infestation issues. Two weeks ago we saw how another district, Monroe County, NJ answered the calls of concerns of parents and staff by closing Holly Glen Elementary for mold remediation in response to high mold results on October 4th. Three days later, and simply as a precaution!  all Monroe Township schools were closed for mold inspection and remediation.  They remain closed 2 weeks later to allow for a comprehensive assessment to be completed.

In addition, on October 11th, John B. Kelly Elementary school was closed to an emergent mold issue spanning 10 classrooms – for 600 square feet of mold growth. The scope of the mold contamination rapidly expanded to include some 3 dozen areas, and about 1000 feet of mold and impacts on asbestos materials and major ventilation concerns. Only the advocacy and push from educational staff and the teacher’s union prompted district officials to close the Germantown school for immediate remediation. Parents and staff recall the issues with mold at Kelly to be present between 1-2 years.  Parents report their children suffer sicknesses, asthma attacks, and upper respiratory infections similar to those reported by parents in Monroe twp.

711368104482106532-kelly-leaky-roof.fullAffected room as seen last Spring. The trash cans have been collecting what is leaking from the above pipes. Photo Credit: Greg Windle

There have been similar conditions at many other Philadelphia public schools. So, we have some questions for Philadelphia School District officials. This past summer, Munoz-Marin, Steel, Clemente, and Hunter had extensive mold remediation projects. What about the conditions at Kelly were not deemed bad enough to fix over the Summer, but necessary to close during the school year?  How many more schools are in the same condition as Kelly, but have not risen to the level of action by the district? If the conditions at those four schools were also a long standing issue, then why weren’t those schools closed for immediate remediation when the issues were first acknowledged?  In addition to mold, our students, teachers, and school staff are exposed to lead in paint and drinking water, asbestos, rodent and pest infestations, and lack of proper climate control within our school buildings.

One thing that parents in Monroe twp have to help them understand the issues at their schools is the actual Indoor Air Quality report for Holly Glen Elementary, which identifies the classrooms, the contamination, and problem analysis. The report includes pictures of the affected areas and damage.  In contrast, it is not currently possible for a parent to obtain the Indoor Air Quality test results or report of their child’s school in Philadelphia public. Unfortunately there is an enormous amount of data that is unavailable to an informed public with regard to Philadelphia public schools. The lack of information only leads to more questions:

  • How do we know how significant the damage was/is in the district’s schools? We don’t?
  • Is the damage here worse than in Monroe Twp schools? We don’t know?
  • Are our children at any greater risk by having them continue in school buildings with these conditions? We don’t know.
  • What is the district’s plan to avoid the situation in the future? We don’t know.
  • Are there any other schools that have similar conditions? We don’t know.
  • What were the specific conditions that highlighted the 4 schools for mold remediation and the 5 for asbestos abatement this past Summer? We don’t know.
  • Was the work done this Summer done correctly to ensure our children’ health and safety? We don’t know.
  • Was the money used to remediate mold and asbestos spent responsibly? We don’t know.

A high level of transparency is essential in getting our children the clean, warm, nurturing classrooms and schools that they deserve. To date, we have not had the level of assistance or transparency from the district that would allow parents to feel that our children are well taken care of in their school buildings.  

Sometimes things don’t change is because no one is willing to learn from the problem to make different choices.  

We are trying to make a change in the way the school district maintains and improves its school buildings. The Philly Healthy Schools Initiative is working towards: improving the amount of information and data transparency from the district, establishing an adequate building conditions and best practices to ensure a healthy learning environment, identifying and addressing the most critical health and safety priorities, and establishing a stakeholder advisory committee.   Our goal is to work with the district to achieve the clean, safe, warm, nurturing environment that the district states as its standard.  

We Can & We Must Do Better.

How you can help:

  • Parents and teachers collaborate to identify and report facility conditions that are unhealthy and unsafe. Teacher reports to the principal need to be carried up to the union.
  • Go into your child’s school. Visit their classrooms, and yes, the bathrooms. Look at the ceiling tiles, walls, flooring. Notice odors, pests and their waste. If there is anything that concerns you, tell the principal. Parents should also make a note of their concerns to make follow up easier. 
  • Read the Facility Condition Assessment for your child’s school. It can be found on the district website. All schools were assessed in 2015. It gives a snapshot of the school’s condition and a priority list of issues.
  • Contact us at parentsunitedphila@gmail.com
  • Contact Philly Healthy Schools Initiative for more information. David Masur: davidmasur@pennenvironment.org

 

Call to Action: Did your child experience significant teacher vacancies during 2015-16/ 2016-17 school years? Public Interest Law Center would like to speak with you.

The Law Center is interested in speaking with parents/guardians whose children were enrolled in the School District of Philadelphia during the 2015-2016/2016-2017 school years in special education programs that experienced significant teacher vacancies (List of Schools for Plaintiff identification purposes) and who were not granted compensatory education related to those vacancies.
This may include, but is not limited to, children who:
  • had a long-term substitute teacher (or other school personnel such as counselors or non-teaching school staff) for their special education services; or
  • experienced multiple substitutes (or other school personnel such as counselors or non-teaching school staff) to address special education teacher vacancies; or
  • experienced significantly increased special education class size because one special education classroom was combined with another classroom.
We are especially interested in identifying children in the School District of Philadelphia who were enrolled in special education programs who: (1) experienced teacher vacancies during the 2015-2016 or 2016-2017 school years and (2) –
  • Did not have IEP team meetings; or
  • Did not receive any progress reports (as opposed to report cards); or
  • Did not receive the services mandated in their IEP; or
  • Made no meaningful progress or even regressed.
Please have those who are interested e-mail the Law Center at lawbrey@pubintlaw.org or call (267) 546-1313