UrbEd Demands for Police-Free Schools in Philadelphia

Read UrbEd's demands for the School District of Philadelphia around how students are being policed.

June 11, 2020
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  • The recent murders of Black citizens at the hands of the police have brought to light yet again the ways policing in this country represses and brutalizes Black communities and upholds white supremacy. The mass protests and responses of organizations, leaders, and individuals across the country show that now is the time to completely re-evaluate and re-strategize how we approach and enact community safety. Philadelphia is the poorest large city in the United States, and the youth of this city face numerous traumas on a daily basis. Young Philadelphians are no strangers to the negative impact of policing, as their neighborhoods, schools and the entirety of their lives are impacted by interaction with law enforcement. UrbEd has compiled this list of demands to end the cycle of violence and criminalization that our city’s youth encounter, specifically focused on their experiences with police in schools
  • The Philadelphia school district, 86 percent students of color, is over-policed and criminalizes students on a daily basis in school communities where they should feel safe and welcomed. School resource officers (SRO), while not directly connected to the Philadelphia Police Department (PPD), are deeply lacking oversight, training, and punishment for misconduct among other things. This reality of problematic school policing, zero-tolerance policies, and criminalization re-enforces the school-to-prison pipeline in our schools-- this needs to end. As a by-student-for-student nonprofit organization, UrbEd has the following demands to create safe, decriminalized school environments.

Reimagine school security.

  • We need to fundamentally change how we keep our students and schools safe. The SRO model we have now is not working but is rather putting students, specifically Black and Brown students, in danger. Black students are arrested and suspended at the highest rates both nationwide and in Pennsylvania. Philadelphia has seen an average of 500 or more in school arrests per year in recent years. Also--while severely underreported or tracked--there have been numerous reports of physical abuse or excessive use of force against students. UrbEd conducted a grassroots student survey in 2017 where 70 percent of students thought there were better alternatives to suspension. This data, along with incidents like the assault of a student in Ben Franklin high school in 2016, shows the need to completely reconstruct the system of school safety. We need to set new normals and break old mindsets of policing. This entails:
  • Transition away from school resource officers to community-based safety officers. While SRO’s are employed under a different name, this position functions as nothing more than police in our schools. This contributes to the criminalizing and policing of students, rather than the safety and wellbeing of students. We call for the release of SROs and the implementation of a new hiring process, searching for diverse individuals with strong local community connections and experience working with youth. This new hiring process would also require comprehensive background checks of all applicants, and current SROs would not be excluded from applying for the new position under the new hiring process..
  • Comprehensive, expansive training prioritizing students’ safety and health over discipline. Training must include anti-racism (example here), trauma-sensitive youth practices (especially as it relates to poverty), de-escalation, how to work with students with special needs, and restorative justice practices. This training should also be reviewed and approved by a diverse group of students, educators, parents and adolescence health practitioners (counselors, psychologists, social workers, medical doctors) to ensure that the training is comprehensive and inclusive.
  • Goals and actions of school safety staff should focus on creating a trusting and supportive school environment for students. School safety staff responsibilities should focus on creating safety within the school and the at-large community from a place of trust. Their duties should include: de-escalating confrontational or tense situations, facilitating restorative justice with the help of school counselors when incidents occur, addressing students concerns or conflicts by providing relevant resources, utilizing the arrest diversion program the district already has in place, and generally engaging with the students in a positive manner to help provoke positive change.
  • End zero-tolerance policies and harsh disciplinary practices that form the school-to-prison pipeline and replace them with restorative justice practices While the district doesn’t use the phrase “zero tolerance,” students are still suspended and arrested at high rates for low-level conduct infractions. Specifically remove Policy 805, which requires all Philadelphia School District high schools to have metal detectors. School administrators in collaboration with students, staff, and other community stakeholders, should determine if metal detectors are necessary for the school community. These policies have a history of criminalizing students (especially students of color), are costly, take away from learning, and create unsafe environments.

Redistribute the police (School Resource Officers) budget.

  • The district plans to spend $31.3 million on school police in the 2020-2021 school year--a $1.4 million increase from the 29.9 million spent in the 2019-2020 school year. This follows a pattern of increasing the policing of students while cutting support staff, programs, and medical professionals available to students. In the past decade, students have seen school buildings with more SROs than nurses and counselors. The Philadelphia community has seen tragic incidents as a result of this: Laporshia Massey, a 12-year-old student, died in her school due to the lack of a nurse to administer her asthma inhaler in 2013. Nationally, 1.7 million students are in schools with police, but no counselors, and 6 million are in schools with police, but no school psychologists. We demand a reduction of the allocated school police budget (which is the line item name in the budget) and redistribution of resources to the following services:
  • Increased support for student’s mental and emotional health. Hire more psychologists, social workers, and counselors to support students dealing with trauma and mental health, rather than punishing students due to these factors.
  • Invest in creative outlets such as arts and after-school programming to engage students as it may assist with positive student engagement and help students cope with mental-health issues.
  • Allocate more funds towards nurses and medical supplies in schools to ensure the wellbeing and health of students. We demand that the district decrease the ratio of students to full-time nurses on site.
  • Ensure all buildings are safe and healthy environments. Just in the past year, at least 7 schools experienced asbestos issues, displacing many students. Therefore, the incoming Chief Operations Officer should go through a public forum, all schools should be inspected regularly and the district needs to create a plan to rebuild and reimagine what healthy school buildings look like.

Transparency and oversight.

  • It is not enough to re-hire safety personnel and implement training. School security must have meaningful oversight and transparency to ensure they support students. At this moment, there is very little information to be found on policing in the school district. There are no records on how they are trained, what their demographics are, or basic accountability documents like job descriptions or code of conduct easily available to the public. The Philadelphia community has the right to access information on how school security works. There must be a process of complaints and mechanisms to report abuses.
  • There must be an independent body to oversee student safety and the actions of the community-based safety officers in the district. This independent body should consist of district leaders, students, parents, adolescence healthcare professionals, juvenile justice practitioners, community members, and advocacy organizations. This board will review and make policy suggestions, investigate complaints, monitor how the district is reimagining school safety, and consult the district on safety protocols. We demand that the complaint system be made available to students, be reviewed regularly, and result in real investigations and consequences for security officers who abuse students.
  • Yearly report including data on safety incidents, students suspension and arrest rates, the number of interactions with Philadelphia Police Department on school grounds, and progress on reimagining school safety. The report should serve as a benchmark of progress.

Wider staff training.

  • It is not enough to only change school security. To truly make students feel safe and welcome in their schools, we have to train and work with all district employees.
  • Require all teachers, staff, and administrators to receive anti-bias, anti-racist, and cultural competency training to ensure all students are protected. The district must update their current programming and receive guidance from outside parties/organizations experienced in these training sessions as well as educators with the district who have experience with anti-racist organizing and work.
  • All teachers should receive training in how to facilitate productive and inclusive conversations about race and diversity. The district must provide outside organizations as resources (some such organizations include Crossroads, Race Forward, or Center for Racial Justice in Education among others) to help facilitate these conversations and training. With a diversity gap between students and teachers in Philadelphia, we need to ensure that classrooms are spaces that encourage conversations about race and diversity and are being taught and facilitated in a respectful and productive way.

We believe these demands are concrete steps in de-policing our schools and youth. We have the support of students and organizations across Philadelphia. We call on Dr. Hite, the School Board, and City Council to work with UrbEd and other community-based advocacy organizations to enact these changes--so important in working toward racial justice and dismantling white supremacy in our country. Black Students Matter, Black Youth Matter, Black Lives Matter.

About Move School Forward

As we are inundated with calls for “reopening schools” and returning to normal, it is crucial that we demand a just future for our education system that includes students as full participants in the decision-making process, from the school to state levels. Where people are reimagining the future of schools, the voices of the most marginalized students are consistently sidelined. Our collective of youth-driven organizations has outlined key principles to move school forward. Read our demands.