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Compromising safety of city students

The recent violent assault on a staffer at Bartram High School is a very grim reminder of many of the issues facing our public schools and our city.

The recent violent assault on a staffer at Bartram High School is a very grim reminder of many of the issues facing our public schools and our city.

It's a reminder of just how difficult it is to educate children, especially those who come from difficult neighborhoods or have challenging personal and family situations. For students to succeed at a school like Bartram, support services, extracurricular activities, and sufficient school staff must be in place and fully functional from day one.

Without these resources, school conditions will deteriorate rapidly. By spring, it is nearly impossible to course-correct before the end of the school year. We know that Bartram did not receive adequate resources and supports. The result: a year of danger, missed opportunities, and wasted potential for too many students.

Bartram is probably the most extreme case of how the Philadelphia School District's financial crisis has contributed to an already difficult situation. Certainly, most of our schools aren't dealing with the day-to-day chaos that has occurred at 67th and Elmwood. But while Bartram may be in the direst need of "emergency assistance," most of Philadelphia's schools are also in critical condition.

Too often this year, I have found myself in the position of saying that much of this could have been avoided. Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. says he is now sending an administrator to the school to implement a discipline plan that emphasizes restorative practices. This, of course, is a good idea - so good, in fact, that the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers included implementation of restorative practices for every school in our contract proposals to the district last year. The district's response to these and every other PFT proposal was a clear and definitive "no."

While students and staff at Bartram and other schools face a daily threat of serious injury - or worse - School Reform Commission Chairman Bill Green and Hite have made contract violations and staffing policy changes the order of the day. They continue to make the ridiculous case that so-called work rules are the first thing we need to address in our schools.

Chief among their pet provisions is full site selection for teacher vacancies in the district. But every teaching position at Bartram is already filled through site selection, as are 93 percent of all teaching vacancies in the district. This or any other staffing policy has had absolutely no impact on learning conditions at Bartram, and won't help at any other school if the children don't have the programs and services they truly need.

Had the School District not walked away from the negotiating table in search of legal loopholes to avoid true collaboration with the PFT, we could have at least discussed real solutions for fixing conditions at schools like Bartram.

By abandoning contract negotiations, the SRC and the School District haven't simply shown disrespect to the members of the PFT; they have contributed to compromising the safety of school students and staff, and turned a blind eye toward the real needs of our city's schoolchildren.