Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Editorial: Education Interrupted

Crack down on disruptive students

The latest student misconduct report on the Philadelphia public schools makes it easier to understand why so many students are failing.

Who can learn in a disruptive environment where 1,048 "serious" incidents were reported during the first two months of the current school year?

The incidents range from students bringing a gun to school to assaulting a teacher. Even more troubling, some of these events involved students as young as kindergartners.

The total represents a slight rise over the same period last year, when 1,028 offenses were committed. Clearly, the district must take more aggressive steps to curb violence.

According to Tomás Hanna, chief school operations officer, the reported incidents included 11 in which a gun was brought to school and 91 drug or alcohol offenses.

It gets worse: 460 cases were for assaults on staff and 486 involved students ganging up on other students.

About 31 percent of the reports were unfounded, but that still leaves a staggering number of disciplinary problems that must be dealt with - and soon.

Formal expulsion proceedings are under way for only 43 students, 4 percent of those involved. An additional 32 percent of the disruptive students have been transferred to disciplinary schools, and 3 percent more are in the process of being sent to those facilities.

In some cases, elementary school students, including kindergartners and first and second graders, could not be sent to disciplinary school because of their age. Instead, they were sent to another traditional public school or kept in their current placement.

In an encouraging sign, the School Reform Commission voted Dec. 18 to expel its first student in nearly three years. District CEO Arlene Ackerman has ordered a zero-tolerance discipline policy, so we hope the district will now crack down on those students more interested in wreaking havoc than getting an education.

The district has had a history of bypassing expulsion even for its most violent students, sometimes leaving them in the same classrooms where they committed their offenses.

Although it is taking positive steps now, the district must do more to quickly remove troublemakers by expediting expulsion hearings and meting out strict discipline. That may mean adding more staff or revamping the process.

Students facing expulsion must be given due process and a chance to plead their cases.

In voting to formally change and clarify its expulsion policy, the School Reform Commission said that expelled students would not be set free to roam the streets. They will be educated in alternative schools unless their parents request otherwise.

That's how it should be. Students removed from traditional classrooms cannot be warehoused at disciplinary schools. The district has an obligation to provide even them with a quality education, while addressing their behavioral problems.

In an unrelated move, the commission also lowered the compulsory school age from 8 to 6. A law pushed by State Rep. James Roebuck (D., Phila.) changed the age for public school children in the city. The law should be changed for the entire state to expose all of Pennsylvania's children to learning at an early age and give them a solid foundation for their future education.