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Law Enforcement Leaders & Educators: Schools Must Be Safe Havens for Students, Staff

PHILADELPHIA (November 1, 2021) — Law enforcement, public education, and city officials on Monday expressed their commitment to greater coordination and collaboration to ensure Philadelphia public schools remain among the safest spaces for children in the city.

Philadelphia Police, the District Attorney, and criminal justice partners also reinforced that crime prevention strategies and criminal investigations of incidents involving student victims and survivors reflect a shared urgency around making sure schools are sacred and protected spaces for youth.

“The rise in gun violence in our city in the wake of pandemic is sickening, particularly when children are endangered, harmed, and sometimes tragically killed. This is unacceptable, and my top priority is to combat the scourge of gun violence in our city,” said Mayor Jim Kenney. “While we advocate and take action to get guns off our streets, we will also continue to work with law enforcement and School District partners to create — and protect — safe and supportive spaces where children can learn and grow. We’re committed to making our schools the safe havens that our children need and deserve.”

“The challenges over the past year and a half have shown us all how resilient our children can be,” said Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw. “The Philadelphia Police Department remains committed to working with all of our partners towards ensuring that they have every opportunity available to them in order to learn and flourish in safe and productive environments.”

“As a parent and as a product of public schools myself, I want to be clear that schools are sacred places where we and our law enforcement and school district partners will do everything we can to protect students and educators. We will have the calm and peace that learning requires in Philadelphia’s schools, including our public schools,” District Attorney Larry Krasner said.

During a convening at Mary McLeod Bethune School in North Philadelphia, students and educators shared ideas for preventing and addressing violence in or near schools with Mayor Kenney, PPD Commissioner Outlaw, DA Krasner, School District of Philadelphia (SDP) Superintendent William R. Hite, Jr., Ed.D., SDP Chief of School Safety Kevin Bethel, along with state and federal law enforcement officials and members of Philadelphia City Council. In addition to recent incidents of gun violence, which disproportionately affect Black and brown students in economically challenged communities, exposure to illegal and dangerous drug trafficking and group rivalries also present public safety concerns.

“Violence, unfortunately, isn’t a new phenomenon, but we’re now seeing more brazen behavior in our communities that is impacting our students and schools,” Superintendent Hite said. “While we’ve always worked to have our schools be safe havens for our students and staff, it’s becoming increasingly clear that additional efforts are necessary to make the streets around our schools safer. This is obviously an issue that will not be solved by just one entity; but rather something that will require all of us to work together.”

“It is critical that our public schools remain safe places for all of our kids,” said Office of the Attorney General Chief of Criminal Investigations John Kitzinger. “The guarantee of safety and security at school allows our children to learn and grow. We will continue to build our collaborative efforts to make sure that every child in Philadelphia can be safe at school.”

“We will continue working closely alongside our local, county, state, and federal partners,” said Matthew Varisco, Special Agent in charge of ATF’s Philadelphia Field Division. “These longstanding partnerships have been, and will continue to be the essence of ATF’s mission in combatting violent crime and keeping our communities safe from gun violence.”

Students in attendance also reminded the public that health and safety concerns in Philadelphia schools and communities have persisted for years if not decades, calling for an urgent response centered on their generation and not cycles of media attention.

“Teenagers know what’s going on around them. Without a space to talk about the issues that plague our communities and our society, teens and children harbor their feelings of fear and hopelessness,” said Cayla Waddington, a 10th grader at Mathematics, Civics and Sciences Charter. “The fallout comes when grades drop and students begin acting out. They are then labeled as problem students with behavior issues. Suspensions and expulsions don’t provide students with the help they so desperately need. This seemingly endless cycle of violence has ravaged our communities and it has to stop.”

Bethune 8th grader Herman Andino said of persistent, decades-long gun violence: “Even though I feel safe in school, I don’t feel safe around my school. Just around the corner, eight murders have happened to students my age and it’s not right.”

CONTACT:
Jane Roh, 215–686–8711, [email protected]

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The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office is the largest prosecutor’s office in Pennsylvania, and one of the largest in the nation. It serves the more than 1.5 million residents of the City and County of Philadelphia, employing 600 lawyers, detectives, and support staff. The District Attorney’s Office is responsible for prosecution of approximately 40,000 criminal cases annually.