At 7 a.m., teenagers are scurrying to dress and head to class. There are no parents or older siblings nearby to push them out of bed and out the door. And the commute isn’t long — just a short walk from prison bed to classroom.
But these young men at the MacLaren Juvenile Detention Facility in Woodburn, Oregon, are going someplace — and that’s a start, state educators and justice officials say.
The students meander from four different buildings, depending on their status — some as young as 15 and others who were sentenced as adults but placed in juvenile facilities — down long corridors to a central school.
“MacLaren is a regular school, and if you were to walk in you’d think you’re in a high school hallway,” said Deborah Martin, senior policy advisor for community services at the Oregon Youth Authority.
The students get the usual array of math, English and science. But MacLaren and most of Oregon’s other youth detention facilities also offer the chance to learn a vocation. An advanced auto mechanics class ties to a partnership with a local community college. Classes teach latticework and woodworking. Some students learn wildlife preservation and take advanced classes in fighting wildfires common to the Pacific Northwest.
The most advanced students, usually in their late teens or early 20s who have spent years in the facility and are ready to transition into the public sector, are allowed to work with local firefighters out in the fields.
“As a state, we’ve made a conscious decision that we can’t just give them a high school education, but give them a vocation and a chance to succeed in the work world,” Martin said. “For most of these kids, something wasn’t quite right about their life — that’s why they came to us. We want to help them get back on track.”
Oregon is considered at the forefront of efforts to improve the transition from juvenile detention back to public schools or into the workforce, according to education and juvenile justice experts.
In addition to schoolwork, the state has set up a system in which each teenager entering the juvenile justice system is assigned a parole officer who will stick with them until they exit the system.
The officers serve as case managers, arranging counseling, mental and substance abuse treatment if needed and, working with the teens, teachers and their families, devise an education and support plan as soon as they enter the system.
Additionally, Oregon provides some juveniles with transitional parole officers whose job is helping the teens and young adults in their first reentry months. What began as a pilot program four years ago with a single officer has developed into a statewide assistance program that has put about 100 teens into the workforce and helped many more return to the classroom.
Jim Kramer, chief of parole and probation for the Oregon Youth Authority, said transition officers stay in specific regions so they know about job opportunities and can build contacts in local school systems. They mostly support youth 17 and older.
All students leaving detention facilities in the state must be admitted into local schools. But “let’s face it, in some of these schools our students are going back to places in class with some of their victims, so there is some pushback,” Kramer said. “Our transition POs work to soften that landing and work with the school and student to come up with a transition plan.”
National trend to reduce recidivism
Oregon’s attempt to ease the transition from lockdown to society is part of a larger national trend that experts say is tied to a steep drop in juvenile crime and recidivism.
In the past two decades, the population of young people held in juvenile facilities or other forms of detention has been cut in half nationwide, according to a study by Child Trends, a nonprofit research organization focusing solely on youth and their families.
The figures are encouraging, juvenile justice experts say, and show that more states are using data and lessons learned from comprehensive studies (such as one from the National Center for Mental Health and Juvenile Justice in 2016) as blueprints for diversion and treatment programs that keep teens in school and ultimately make them far less likely to reoffend.
But the success of diversion programs has created a new reality for educators and justice professionals: Those who are locked up now are sometimes more hardened, more difficult to reach and present a challenge to educate and treat before and after they reenter society.
“What the data shows is that as incarceration rates have gone down, the population still incarcerated are higher risk and higher need, and recidivism rates still tend to be pretty high because it’s a challenging group to work with,” said Josh Weber, program director for the Council of State Governments Justice Center in New York City.
“It requires a more nuanced reading of data and a more sophisticated understanding of risk placement and how to tailor education programs to the individual,” Weber said. “The juvenile field has done a good job, much better than the adult system, of keeping kids from coming back into the system. But I think we’re still struggling with developing enough programs for mental health and substance abuse.”
Recidivism and dropping out of school
Educating teens held in facilities is crucial to helping them return to the classroom when they are released, experts said. But that’s not always easy, in large part because of circumstances students can’t control. Some teens are in locked facilities for only a few days or weeks, making it difficult for teachers to learn the best ways to help them learn. Nearly all students can be pulled from classes for court appearances or other reasons related to their legal issues.
In all, two-thirds of teens released from juvenile facilities never return to school and “find themselves far behind their peers,” according to a study by The Sentencing Project, a nonprofit focusing on disparities in the justice system — adult and juvenile.
“A huge problem, and I’m not sure it’s talked about enough, is the lack of transfer of academic credits when students go from a facility back into a local school system,” said Kate Burdick, a staff attorney for the nonprofit Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia. “When they are going to school in a facility, they think they are getting credit, and they should be. But when they go back to their old school — or sometimes it’s even worse because they are forced to a new school away from where they live — they come to realize the school districts won’t accept those credits.”
That leads to frustration for the students and increases dropout rates, Burdick said.
National guidelines and action plans
Several states and local jurisdictions have implemented new rules to increase the chances that students graduate when leaving detention facilities. For example, New York — pushed into action by a lawsuit and consent decree — has created “credit equivalency charts” that provide uniform standards for integrating students back into the classroom. That includes efforts to make sure students are enrolled in schools in the same district in which they and their family live, increasing the odds they stay in school.
Virginia and Washington state have introduced legislation that speeds up the time between students leaving detention and being enrolled in a local school system.
The federal government has also created guidelines in recent years, aimed at smoothing the transition from detention to graduation. In 2014, the U.S. Department of Education released guidelines for disciplining students, part of an effort to keep teens in school and out of the justice system.
The guidelines stressed the need for strong partnerships among mental health agencies, counseling, law enforcement and school systems — designed to help divert students who might be sent to the juvenile justice system into counseling or specialized school programs. But the guidelines also focus on helping schools and students adapt as they leave lockdown facilities and return to public schools.
In 2016, the Department of Education released a “reentry toolkit” that provided tips and resources for local jurisdictions to provide services for students returning to the classroom.
Another program designed to help both adults and juveniles reenter society, the 2015 federal Second Chance Act, overcame efforts by the Trump administration to slash its budget by 30 percent as of press time. On July 14, the House Appropriations Committee agreed to provide full funding for the project at $68 million with support from both parties, according to committee member Scott Taylor, a Republican representing Virginia. The vote is seen as a key step in the budgeting process.
There is still much work ahead, said Weber of the Council of State Governments. States must do a better job gathering and analyzing case data that will help them craft more effective education programs to help teens graduate high school when they leave detention, he said.
“The good news is that the field is more aware of the need for having a more robust reentry program, and the planning starts much earlier,” Weber said. “It used to be that 30 days before release planning programs would begin. Now, from the moment they are placed in facilities, we see families involved, treatment planning with staff, making sure kids get re-enrolled in school as soon as they are released.”
Despite the difficulties, Weber and others said there are several concrete steps jurisdictions can take to improve the chances teens graduate after incarceration. First and foremost is having mental health and substance abuse treatment programs inside the facilities and in the school systems.
“We’re struck by how few states have a dedicated mental health or substance abuse system,” he said. “The default in many instances is to handle those problems as criminal justice issues, and that’s not where they belong.”
Last year several groups focusing on juvenile justice and education issues combined to create a detailed, 10-point blueprint to aid reentry. The study and guidelines, created by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the American Bar Association Center of Children and the Law, the Juvenile Law Center and others, provides concrete examples and recommendations for states and local jurisdictions to follow.
Still, the success of any program depends on states dedicating money and time to ensure students have the best chance of graduating once they leave detention facilities, said Marsha Levick, deputy director and chief counsel of the Juvenile Law Center.
“There are software programs available, lots of innovative ways to engage students and tailor programs to individual needs,” Levick said. “But there has to be the will to do that.
“What’s always frustrated me is that these kids in locked facilities should have the same exact opportunities as kids on the outside. Yet we don’t hold facilities accountable for delivering the same quality of education. We have to really change that mindset if we want to see better outcomes.”
Trying to interrupt the school-to-prison pipeline
The 2014 U.S. Department of Education’s “Guiding Principles A Resource Guide for Improving School Climate and Discipline” articulates the federal government’s acknowledgement of inequity when it comes to school discipline:
“Nationwide, data collected by our Office for Civil Rights show that youths of color and youths with disabilities are disproportionately impacted by suspensions and expulsions. For example, data show that African-American students without disabilities are more than three times as likely as their white peers without disabilities to be expelled or suspended. Although students who receive special education services represent 12 percent of students in the country, they make up 19 percent of students suspended in school, 20 percent of students receiving out-of-school suspension once ... and 23 percent of students receiving a school-related arrest.”
While the guidelines are nonregulatory, and “the extent to which states and school districts implement the suggestions in this resource guide is a matter for state and local school officials to decide,” it does provide 13 specific action steps designed to reduce suspensions and other out-of-school referrals.
- “Engage in deliberate efforts to create positive school climates.” This action item names groups of youth who are often disenfranchised — from those with disabilities to LBGTQ youth and young people of color. Specific goals may include reducing numbers of suspensions and expulsions and law enforcement referrals, and “identifying and connecting at-risk youths to tailored supports, or increasing the availability of quality mental health supports available for students.”
- “Train all school staff to apply school discipline policies and practices in a fair and equitable manner so as not to disproportionately impact students of color, students with disabilities, or at-risk students.”
“Remove students from the classroom only as a last resort, ensure that alternative settings provide academic instruction, and return students to class as soon as possible.”
Youth placed in juvenile justice institutions face a fundamental obstacle in their career pathway: They have been removed from their communities and lack access to the full array of educational and job opportunities available to their peers. Accordingly, the best long-term solution to the many barriers to career success “disconnected” youth face is to keep them out of the juvenile justice system entirely — and, in particular, out of juvenile detention and correctional institutions.
Indeed, although the goal underlying the juvenile justice system is rehabilitation — meaning that when youth leave the system they will be better off than when they entered, ready to gain employment and be contributing members to society — most juvenile facilities do little to prepare youth for adulthood and fail to properly treat the issues contributing to problematic behaviors.
In particular, many facilities are ill-equipped to provide appropriate treatment for the roughly 75 percent of youth in their care who were previously victims of violent trauma. Without treatment, this trauma can manifest as behavioral health conditions, mental illness and substance abuse, all of which are present at rates two to three times more for children in the juvenile justice system. Moreover, the poor conditions in juvenile facilities can often exacerbate these conditions, leading to further mental health problems. These issues are not new, but any proper response requires a thoughtful systemwide effort.
That’s exactly what Bob Listenbee plans to achieve. Previously serving as chief of the Juvenile Unit of the Defender Association of Philadelphia for 16 years, Listenbee was later appointed by President Barack Obama as administrator of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP). Now, back in Philadelphia as a fellow with the Stoneleigh Foundation, Listenbee hopes to build bridges between the various justice system players to create a comprehensive support system for youth. He recently shared some of his innovative ideas with us.
Under Listenbee’s leadership, OJJDP issued a report finding that trauma will continue to manifest and disrupt a youth’s educational and emotional development until properly addressed. The report emphasized the implementation of “trauma-informed care,” a systemwide approach that recognizes the unique needs of youth who have experienced trauma during childhood. To effectively address trauma, ensuring it does not contribute to later involvement in the justice system, immediate intervention is necessary. Programs that provide counseling and support to young people experiencing domestic violence or gang violence at the moment of the impact have been proven effective.
Too often, trauma left untreated can manifest into involvement in the justice system. Rather than criminalizing the behaviors and incarcerating young people, further exacerbating the trauma they experience, effective programs divert young people out of the justice system and into treatment programs. When youth require more supervision than just treatment, we must make sure systems provide adequate treatment programs that are individualized to meet the youth’s needs.
In contrast, if trauma is left unaddressed, youth are unlikely to fully benefit from other rehabilitation programs such as job training and internships. Because of this, trauma-informed care must be included alongside other career programming so that youth can begin properly preparing gainful employment upon release. If trauma-informed care and job training are implemented successfully, our juvenile justice system can become a real instrument for positive change and rehabilitation.
Listenbee has repeatedly emphasized that just having the answers isn’t enough. The real challenge is implementing these changes across the country so we can start healing our youth as fast as possible. Addressing the root causes of incarceration will give “disconnected” youth the best chance to reach their potential and achieve their career goals.
At Juvenile Law Center, we agree that this approach will best serve not only young people but also their greater communities. We recommend it as a practice for all who are seriously interested in tackling issues of youth employment with system-involved kids.
Patrick Took is a legal intern at the Juvenile Law Center.
This is one in a series of blog posts from the Juvenile Law Center on career pathways and barriers for system-involved youth. It has been slightly edited and is reposted with permission. See the original and full series here.
As any high schooler can tell you, finding paid work experience in today’s economy can be a real challenge. But youth with disabilities in the juvenile justice and foster care systems face a particularly difficult road. In addition to the challenges of system involvement, youth with disabilities often encounter discriminatory attitudes or hiring practices when searching for a job, and they may need additional supports, workplace accommodations or specialized training to secure and maintain employment.
These added hurdles dramatically hinder these young people’s chance of success; research shows that youth and young adults with disabilities are employed at less than half the rate of their nondisabled peers.
The good news is that there is now a federal policy that could help remove some of these impediments. Under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), each state’s vocational rehabilitation agency must set aside at least 15 percent of its federal funds to provide “pre-employment transition services” to students with disabilities. The services required under the statute include:
- Job exploration counseling;
- Work-based learning experiences;
- Counseling on post-secondary programs;
- Workplace readiness training; and
- Instruction in self-advocacy.
But what do these legal requirements mean for youth in practice?
“Now, vocational rehabilitation agencies have to provide actual work experience and activities while a kid is still in school,” explained Joe Cipolla, director of employer services at JEVS Human Services. JEVS is one of the first providers in Philadelphia to begin a pre-employment transition services program under WIOA. We spoke with Joe and his colleague Sarah Hollister about their experiences designing and launching the program. They explained that JEVS is using WIOA funding to offer three key services to youth in several Philadelphia schools:
- Group training in work readiness and self-advocacy skills;
- Job shadowing, where students observe workers doing jobs during the school day; and
- Paid internships in one to three work areas of interest to the student.
These services function as a package, Joe explained, “taking a youth from ‘here’s how to think about work,’ to ‘let’s look at some things you’re interested in,’ and finally to ‘let’s get you a position doing that.’”
Joe and Sarah identified several innovative approaches they have been able to take because of the new WIOA funding. “One of the exciting things about the program is that the paid work experiences are so customizable,” Sarah explained, describing how, through the JEVS program, a student who had an interest in event planning was able to get paid for her work helping to plan the prom for the JEVS E3 Center.
Joe also emphasized the potential power of the collaboration between the school district, private providers and the vocational rehabilitation agency. It takes a new level of coordination among these entities to ensure program success, which “really expands the options available to students,” he explained. By combining the school district’s educational expertise with providers’ connections to employers and community resources, students can receive more integrated and holistic career and academic services.
Although the pre-employment transition services opportunities made possible under WIOA are not specific to youth in foster care or the juvenile justice system, programs could be designed to target those groups. A majority of system-involved youth have some sort of disability and are likely eligible for the services. WIOA also incentivizes states to design workforce programs that reach high-risk youth, including those in the child welfare or juvenile justice system.
Here are some recommendations from our report for how pre-employment transition services programs could better reach system-involved youth:
- Create a clear, written process for identification, referral and service provision for youth in foster care or the juvenile justice system.
- Develop a pre-employment transition services program in a juvenile justice or child welfare facility.
- Incorporate referrals to the vocational rehabilitation agency into the transition planning and reentry processes.
The passage of WIOA won’t mean the end of every struggle that a student with a disability in foster care or the juvenile justice system ever faces. But with the grit these youth so often exhibit, and these new resources for programs who assist them, this new policy can take one hurdle out of their way.
Elisa Egonu is a legal intern and Karen U. Lindell a staff attorney for the Juvenile Law Center.
As fall rolls around, parents and young people are preparing for a new school year. So too are teachers, school administrators and, in many places, school-based police officers and school resource officers (SROs). In its 2015 report on public school safety and discipline, the National Center for Educational Statistics estimates that there are more than 43,000 school resource officers and other sworn police personnel working in the nation’s 84,000 public schools. With such a significant presence of law enforcement within our educational institutions, the time is ripe to re-examine and reimagine their role.
In 2013-14, 13 percent of all public schools reported at least one serious violent incident, and 2 percent reported at least one physical attack or fight with a weapon. Fifty-eight percent reported physical attacks or fights without a weapon, and 56 percent reported threats of physical violence (9 percent of which included a weapon and 47 percent that did not). Overall, the rate of serious violent incidents per 1,000 students was 0.5.
Regardless of how one might answer the question of whether the presence of police officers in schools is, or is not, a deterrent to serious violence, it is clear that since the 1999 Columbine school massacre, we, as a society, have been unwilling to accept the risk of violence. But increasingly, school-based police officers and SROs are being charged, not only with addressing violence, but also with removing from schools those children who are deemed to be disruptive to the educational environment. Across the nation, children are subject to removal, and even arrest, not only for things they do but oftentimes for things they do not do, including subjective infractions such as “defiance” and “noncompliance.”
We all remember the 2015 video recording from a South Carolina school where a girl was put in a headlock and thrown to the ground by a male police officer who had been called because she refused a teacher’s order to put away a cellphone. Not only was the excessive force shocking, but later, when the totality of the girl’s circumstances came to light, the system failure was even starker. At the time of her arrest, she was undergoing several familial challenges and was in foster care. Though it is impossible in hindsight to say whether those challenges were responsible for her refusal to cooperate that day, what is clear is that in an ideal world, an inquiry into her personal circumstances would have at least been made.
Among the children excluded from schools each year, an estimated 50 to 75 percent have behavioral or mental health needs and some estimates say as many as 70 percent have cognitive or learning challenges that may make school settings unreceptive, or even hostile, places for them.
Additionally, there are children whose home and family circumstances make it difficult to attend school on a regular basis, focus and perform up to standards when they do attend, or respond appropriately to teachers and other authority figures. Other children may be victims of abuse or other trauma, making them more likely to be triggered by the rules, strictures or approaches that are typical of the school environment.
At the very least, these data suggest that we may be overusing and misusing the most extreme tool at our disposal in an effort to preserve the peace in our learning spaces. In Philadelphia, following many years of experience in the police department, and after rising to the level of deputy police commissioner, Kevin Bethel began to suspect as much.
As deputy commissioner, Bethel and his officers found that too often, children arrested in schools were no real threat to the public and were certainly not “delinquent.” Instead, they were more likely to be “defiant,” “insolent,” “belligerent” and in some cases “disruptive”— adjectives that, in the most benign interpretation, could be considered accurate descriptors of normal adolescent behavior, but could also be seen as indicators of a need for supportive social services.
With the cooperation of law enforcement, the juvenile courts and, perhaps most notably, the Department of Human Services, in 2012, former Deputy Commissioner Bethel began to reimagine the role of law enforcement in the School District of Philadelphia.
After developing memoranda of agreement and a process with his partners, Bethel started small — rather than arresting students for minor, nonviolent offenses, school-based police officers and SROs would divert these children and give them and their families the option to receive case management and support services.
In the first academic year (2014-15) of the Philadelphia School Diversion Program, arrests declined 54 percent and there were 1,051 fewer behavioral incidents in the schools. And just as important, through the program’s intervention, hundreds of children and their families gained access to services they might not otherwise have received.
The Philadelphia experience reinforces what we already know from the data — that children funneled into the juvenile justice system are often not “bad” but rather in need of services, and that, all too often, schools become a pipeline to prison rather than a pathway to success. By simply reimagining the role of law enforcement in our schools, and by refocusing their presence toward helping students and their families, we might just restore our youth, our schools and our communities along the way.
Marie N. Williams, J.D., is senior program officer at the Stoneleigh Foundation. Before that she was immediate past executive director of the Coalition for Juvenile Justice and a longtime advocate for social justice causes.
In today’s world, having access to your vital records (birth certificate, Social Security card, state ID card) is, in fact, vital. These records are essential in our day to day lives in a variety of ways including:
- Securing housing
- Applying for health insurance
- Furthering one’s education and getting financial aid
- Interacting with law enforcement
- Procuring public benefits
- Obtaining employment
There is, however, an undocumented population of U.S. citizens among us: system-involved youth. What we mean by this is large numbers of youth leave the child welfare and juvenile justice systems without their vital documents or they are not able to maintain them due to housing instability. Not having these records makes smoothly transitioning to adulthood difficult, if not impossible.
The consequences system-involved youth experience by not having these essential records include potential housing instability, the inability to pursue certain educational opportunities and financial aid, and lack of access to public benefits. Not having identification can also be a barrier to employment. This is the situation Bruce Morgan, Juvenile Law Center’s youth advocate alum, faced.
Bruce, who recently aged out of foster care, struggled to obtain the identification documents necessary to pursue employment. Bruce aged out of foster care before federal law — the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act — required that all youth aging out of the foster care system be provided their vital documents. Bruce was persistent and sought the assistance of the Achieving Independence Center in Philadelphia, which provides aftercare services to foster youth. He obtained his identification documents, but lost them when he became homeless.
Two years ago, Bruce applied for a job with AmeriCorps and realized during the application process that he did have his identification documents. He did not know how to navigate the system and did not have funds to pay any of the fees required to obtain vital documents. Luckily for Bruce, AmeriCorps was willing to work with him and held the position until he could locate his identification. However, for other youth, including many of Bruce’s friends, this flexibility is not always available and job and training opportunities can be lost as youth try to obtain their identification.
While the state of Pennsylvania does require foster youth to receive their vital documents upon discharge, there are many system-involved youth who do not receive these documents or are not able to maintain them when they leave care.
Recently, there have been policies enacted to address securing identification documents for youth in the child welfare system. In Philadelphia, the child welfare agency requires that a caseworker for the private provider agency contracted to serve a youth request a youth’s vital documents at the very moment they enter the system. The agency also requires that youth are provided their identification documents before they leave care at age 18 or older.
According to Bruce, vital records are a lifeline because “everywhere you go you need proof of identity … any job, school or just walking on the street in certain neighborhoods You need a way to identify yourself.” He suggests the following reforms:
- Require that youth be educated about the importance of obtaining vital records before discharge and maintaining records after discharge.
- Provide youth training in how to advocate for themselves in court and case planning so that they can report on the status of their identification and whether they have obtained it.
Identity verification has become a necessary and common part of our daily lives. To participate fully in society, and for youth to have a fair shot at making a life for themselves in the adult world, they must have access to their vital documents. To make this possible, our laws, policies, and most importantly practices, must make this a certainty for young people.
As the Labor Day weekend approaches, officials in Philadelphia have decide to extend a curfew on young people they say has been effective in extinguishing flash mobs.
The summertime curfew has been in effect the last few weeks, since a group of teens attacked several people in the city’s downtown.
A spokesman for Mayor Michael Nutter told the Philadelphia Inquirer the curfew is working and would be extended until the start of the regular school year on Sept. 6.
After that, students will find themselves subject to the city’s school-year ordinance that makes kids aged 13-17 subject to a 10:30 weekday, and a midnight weekend, curfew.
The mayor and other supporters of the curfew have their detractors. Critics say the creation of economic opportunities for young people in the city is a much better approach to solving juvenile crime, while others question its legality.
While no so-called flash mobs have materialized since Aug. 9, arrests have continued.
Along with the curfew, the city has also deployed more police officers downtown and extended community and youth center hours, says The Inquirer.
ABOUT A MONTH after I became the interim chief executive officer of the School District of Philadelphia, in 2000, I was greeted with a damaging report by a subcommittee of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives detailing rampant violence in the city's schools.
Violence is a serious problem that the district "attempts to downplay, if not conceal," the report asserted.
Now, a decade later, the Philadelphia Inquirer has placed a spotlight on the district once again in an updated and detailed encore, a multipart series on school violence.
Reports of violence in the city's schools aren't new now, nor were they a decade ago. Three decades ago, a 1980 Philadelphia Evening Bulletin article proclaimed "student beatings are up 24 percent in Philadelphia." Another article asked, "Can We Protect Our Teachers?"
Five years before that, extensive news accounts about violence documented an incident in which students kicked and beat a partially blind teacher.
Earlier still, in February 1971, the city was shocked when popular arts-and-crafts teacher Samson Freedman was murdered -- shot in the head as he walked out of Leeds Junior High School.
And in 1964, the superintendent of schools was so alarmed by attacks on teachers that he recommended they receive full pay if they missed school due to injuries suffered at the hands of students.
I have no doubt that in another decade or so, some media outlet or government agency will once again detail the problem of violence in our schools.
(It should be noted, by the way, that most violent incidents are concentrated in a minority of Philadelphia's 264 schools, and perpetrated by a small number of its 160,000 students.)
But it's not that nothing has been done about the problem over the years.
The district has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to curb violence in its schools, money that could otherwise go to classroom learning, improved technology, new roofs on old schools or better supplies in the classroom.
We have installed metal detectors in our high schools, surveillance cameras in hallways, hired a school police force that dwarfs the regular police forces of most municipalities, increased city police presence outside schools, built and (in some cases) privatized new alternative schools for disruptive students, introduced anti-bullying programs, and others on peer mediation and restorative justice, revamped disciplinary procedures and embraced bumper sticker-quality slogans like "zero tolerance." The list goes on and on.
Many parents have taken action on their own to protect their children: They've abandoned the city for the suburbs, flocked to charter schools perceived to be safer, or opted for parochial or private schools.
Yet reports of violence still spring up year after year like unruly weeds that strangle blooming flowers.
And it's not surprising.
We have the role of schools in "school violence" wrong.
Our schools are not the source of the problem, they are the repository.
Schools don't manufacture guns or produce and sell drugs. They don't make violent movies or television shows, write misogynist or violent lyrics to rap music or create single-parent homes with high unemployment. And yet, we expect our teachers, principals and administrators to right the wrongs of society.
It simply isn't going to happen.
There are many things a school district can and must do to fight violence: It needs to maintain accurate records, report incidents to the appropriate people and provide a safe learning and teaching environment.
But by focusing solely on the school district, we absolve others of responsibility: Parents who aren't providing -- or aren't capable of providing -- proper parenting; faith-based leaders who may have to do more to step into the parental and spiritual breach; corporate leaders who, with advertising dollars, support some of the violent programs on television; politicians who reach for quick sound bites rather than explore substantive solutions.
Then there's the respect issue.
When I visited schools as CEO, I would frequently ask teachers about the biggest change they'd seen in the last 20 to 30 years.
Most would respond that they were getting less respect from parents than they used to. And that was before today's teacher-bashing from politicians who preach law and order but thrive on ripping down the symbol of authority and respect in the classroom.
SO WHAT'S THE solution?
If I knew, I would've fixed the problem when that House report got dumped in my lap. But perhaps we'd be better off if, rather than suggesting putting armed city police in the schools or other quick fixes, our city leaders acknowledged that they don't know the answers either.
Maybe it's time for them to lead us all back to school, and engage us in an honest conversation to see if together we can't come up with some solutions that make these newspaper exposes a thing of the past.
Phil Goldsmith writes "The Gold Standard" column for It's Our Money (www.ourmoneyphilly.com). He was head of the school district in 2000-2001. This piece was originally published in the Philadelphia Daily News.