Violence remains a major problem in the Philadelphia public schools, and it's bound to get worse with the layoff of more than 1,200 aides who assist in the cafeterias, playgrounds, and other areas, says the union representing the workers.
"Schoolchildren could face even greater danger this fall," Unite Here 634 said in a report issued Tuesday outlining incidents of violence and other incidents in the schools this year.
On that point, the union and School District seem to agree.
The 149,535-student district reported 2,672 violent incidents in 2012-13 through June 10, according to spokesman Fernando Gallard. It represents a drop of about 31 percent, or 1,200 incidents, from the same date the previous year.
"We made some very significant strides in improving climate and safety in the schools," Gallard said. "Those will be in jeopardy if we don't have support to provide to our students. . . . It's going to be close to impossible for principals and teachers to maintain the same level of support and services in and out of the classroom."
A 2011 Inquirer series found widespread violence in the city's schools and documented how the district failed to report many incidents. In its aftermath, the district created a safety committee, added training, and changed the way it reports incidents.
The district did not release a rate of violence for the 2012-13 school year that would reflect a change in enrollment, down 2,500 from last year. But nonetheless, the reported incidents of assault appear to have dropped dramatically.
The district reported 1,412 assaults, down 41 percent from last year. Reports of weapons were down 16 percent and morals offenses 19 percent. There was an uptick in robberies; 137 were reported, up 10 percent.
In its report, the union also outlined other incidents in addition to violent cases, including more than 2,800 disorderly conducts - including fighting and disruption - which union officials said the aides help to control. The Inquirer series noted that the School District sometimes downgraded violent incidents in which students were seriously injured as disorderly conduct.
The union's report also noted more than 700 threats.
"A lot of noontime aides are taken for granted," said Nicole Hunt, a union spokeswoman. "They don't realize the work that the aides do every day in the schools. We know we stop the fights. We know we stop bullying of the kids."