WE ARE STILL REIMAGINING: An Update on the Reimagining School Safety & Health Campaign.
UrbEd was initially founded on four goals. One of those goals was to end zero-tolerance policies in public schools. Under those policies, students were punished regularly for trivial mistakes and cries for help. We started the Reimagining School Health and Safety Campaign to address this. The mental health and safety of our students are sacrosanct. Unfortunately, this sentiment is not reflected in the treatment of Black students who are 3.2 times more likely than white students to be disciplined—robbed of grace, support, and SEL practices.
In the continued subjugation of Black people, the world witnessed George Floyd’s callous murder last summer. As a result, police brutality was covered in the media nearly every day. Despite that focus on racial justice, Black people continued to experience racism throughout the summer. We saw it during protests, in health care, and in lackluster responses from educational institutions.
This year, UrbEd responded by calling for a reevaluation of school safety and the use of school resource officers. Part of what we fought for was for the burden of student safety to be equally spread. Ensuring student safety should not be the sole responsibility of teachers and counselors. Other aspects of our demands included:
- Transitioning away from school resource officers to community-based safety specialists.
- Ending zero-tolerance and harsh disciplinary practices that contribute to the school-to-prison pipeline, then supplanting them with restorative justice practices.
- Removing Policy 805, which requires all Philadelphia School District high schools to have metal detectors.
- Redistributing funds toward school resource officers.
- Establishing an independent body to oversee student safety and community-based safety specialists.
- Creating a district-wide mandatory anti-bias, anti-racist, and cultural competency training to ensure all students are protected.
Throughout the year, we participated in dozens of meetings with the Board of Education, the Office of School Safety, the student representatives, Our City Our Schools, and similar district leaders and organizations. During those meetings, we discussed the importance of our demands, worked through the logistics of implementing them, offered alternative roles for student resource officers, and attended a school safety officers’ training.
For the most part, we were effective in persuading district leaders of our demands. But, as is often the case, the power lies in the hands of smaller communities. Larger institutions, like the Board of Education, are averse to quick, substantial change. They wait for the work to be done by smaller collectives before taking action. Because of this, UrbEd will move forward by focusing on each school, principal, teacher, and student. We will work together with school communities to improve models, practices, and climate. And we will do it guided by mental health-informed practices. While we will continue advocating for larger-scale changes, we realize it is most practical to spur change from the bottom-up, as the top-down is laden with bureaucracy.
Brandon Archer, Co-Executive Director
Zoey Tweh, Director of Program Development
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. 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.
- Transition away from school resource officers to community-based safety specialists. 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. Comprehensive, expansive training prioritizing students’ safety and health over discipline. Goals and actions of school safety staff should focus on creating a trusting and supportive school environment for students. End zero-tolerance policies and harsh disciplinary practices that form the school-to-prison pipeline and replace them with restorative justice practices. Specifically remove Policy 805, which requires all Philadelphia School District high schools to have metal detectors.
Redistribute the police (School Resource Officers) budget
- Increased support for student’s mental and emotional health.
- Invest in creative outlets such as arts and after-school programmingAllocate more funds towards nurses and medical supplies in schoolsEnsure all buildings are safe and healthy environments.
Transparency and oversight
- There must be an independent body to oversee student safety and the actions of the community-based safety specialist in the district. Yearly report including data on safety incidents, student suspension and arrest rates, the number of interactions with the Philadelphia Police Department on school grounds, and progress on reimagining school safety.
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. All teachers should receive training in how to facilitate productive and inclusive conversations about race and diversity.