Report Confirms Shortcomings in Philadelphia Schools

Thursday, September 8, 2011

A long-awaited report on violence in Philadelphia schools found that the district failed to report crime consistently, offered too little counseling for children traumatized by violence, and failed to implement solutions in all schools - all problem areas outlined in an Inquirer series published last spring.

The School District has begun implementing the report's recommendations, including establishing a new protocol for reporting serious incidents and crime in the 155,000-student school system.

The Inquirer's seven-part series "Assault on Learning" found that violence was widespread and underreported, and that reporting standards varied from school to school. Some cases in which students were gravely injured were labeled "fights" or "disorderly conducts," and were not counted as serious incidents.

Even so, the series showed that more than 30,000 serious incidents had taken place in the city's schools over five years and that on any given day, 25 students, teachers, or other staff members were beaten, robbed, sexually assaulted, or became victims of other violent crimes.

"No one will know our schools are getting safer unless they can trust that the data we collect and report is valid and consistent, and that there is no 'down-coding' or under-reporting in an attempt to make a school look safer than it is," Mayor Nutter and acting Superintendent Leroy Nunery II wrote in the report's opening section. "We need to reverse the current incentives so that people are not punished for being honest, and if our data has no credibility, our actions will have no legitimacy."

Under the new protocol, responsibility for reporting crime to the Police Department will rest with school police officers, a change that took effect Tuesday, the first day of the 2011-12 school year. In the past, principals generally had discretion on whether to report an incident or call police.

School police also are charged with taking all serious-incident reports and filing them with the district's central incident-control desk.

Other changes, including the implementation of districtwide practices for dealing with students exposed to trauma, are to be rolled out over the school year.

District officials declined to comment on specifics in the report, saying it was still in draft form and would not be formally released until later this month. Spokesman Fernando Gallard said the report is "very close to final."

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