The unions that represent staff members at Philadelphia-area schools are demanding change after nearly 150 school administrators and teachers were assaulted this school year alone.
The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers held a news conference and rally on Friday, surrounded by dozens of administrators and Councilwoman Helen Gym, to demand school security be increased to protect staff, reports Philly.com.
The group also called on legislators to revisit the Sandusky Act, which prevents school staff from touching students. Under the act, adults can be criminally charged for touching students, even if it is to break up a fight.
“We also need programs, services, and more counselors to identify behaviors that a child might be on the wrong path,” said Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers.
During the 2015-2016 school year, there were 130 attacks on teachers and 20 on administrators; in 2016-2017, there were 119 assaults on teachers and 16 on administrators; and in 2017-2018, there were 123 assaults on teachers and 25 on administrators.
A 2007 incident threw Philadelphia schools into the national spotlight when former Germantown High School teacher Frank Burd fell and broke his neck after being punched by a student.
As a result, the district established a teacher-safety hotline and implemented tougher penalties for offenders, but it hasn’t seemed to help the increasing occurrence of assaults.
More Parents Are Perpetrating Violence Against Teachers
Students aren’t the only culprits of verbally and physically assaulting teachers. Parents have become a problem for the schools as well, according to Robin Cooper, president of the Commonwealth Association of School Administrators (CASA) and the Philadelphia School District administrators’ union.
“Some parents now think that it’s OK to assault the people charged with keeping their children safe,” said Cooper. “It’s more than a few cases — just this year, it’s horrendous. People are cursed out or threatened, bullied by parents.”
On June 6, 37-year-old Nicole Myers and 40-year-old Louis Kennedy were arrested and charged after allegedly punching two administrators at Pollock Elementary School after they were told they needed to sign out their son at the office before removing him from school grounds.
At a different school, a principal was knocked unconscious by a parent with a school police lieutenant nearby. In another incident, a parent pulled a knife on a principal; in another, a parent threatened to shoot the principal.
“It’s a small percentage of parents, but those can take up most of your time in a school building,” said Cooper. “I would have to mediate parents fighting other parents. Now, it’s a spillover — if some parents don’t agree with the decision of an administrator, they think it’s OK to physically confront them.”
Another issue, said Cooper, is that the decision to call police after an assault is made on a case-by-case basis by an administrator or the victim. If the police get involved and charges are filed, the cases are not always prosecuted and the outcomes aren’t always shared with the school.
Cooper believes assaults will be reduced by the strengthening security in schools, improving resources for students suffering from trauma and enhancing district policies.
Councilwoman Gym believes in order for change to occur, reforms need to be extended to the entire community.
“We’ve got to figure out a way to figure out healing that is going to bring back those families to a sense of community, but make sure that no principal, no teacher, no parent should have to be afraid to go to school,” she said.
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