Board Asks for City Council Support to Help Stem Gun Violence that Impacts Students and Families
During Board of Education testimony before Philadelphia City Council on May 4, 2022, the Board applauded the work of Mayor Jim Kenney and City Council to implement new programming and to dedicate funding to address the current gun violence crisis in Philadelphia. However, Board Member Reginald Streater said, “More needs to be done to protect our young people.”
In his testimony to City Council, Board Member Streater said, “As we all know, the City has been besieged with rising levels of gun violence, which has taken lives, traumatized survivors and harmed communities.”
He shared the following statistics with City Council Members:
Last year, the city reported more than 2,000 shootings and saw 562 homicides, a tragic record for the city.
And there have already been 145 homicides so far this year.
Tragically, this violence directly affects children and teenagers. So far this year, there have been 96 shooting victims between the ages of 13 and 19, and 12 homicide victims were younger than 18.
The Pew Charitable Trusts recently reported that 70% of city residents now see crime and gun violence as their main concerns.
In a recent panel discussion, hosted by Chalkbeat Philadelphia, Student Board Representative Armando Ortez, said, “Students are petrified to go to school or come back to school” for fear of encountering gun violence. Other students called for the School District to create safe spaces where students can express their fears about gun violence and acknowledge that it’s affecting everyone.
Board Member Streater said, “I’m sure you will agree that there is an urgent need to decrease levels of gun violence in the city to keep our children safe – wherever they are – but especially as they go to and from school.”
He added that the School District has put in place a number of measures to address safe passages to and from school. However, addressing gun violence requires a coordinated, comprehensive response. So the Board is asking that as City Council works toward a final Fiscal Year 2023 Budget, they consider a number of recommendations that would enhance the work of the School District.
First, increase the safe corridors around all schools during travel times to and from school. Earlier this school year with funding from the Commonwealth, the School District announced the first phase of a new “Safe Path” program where paid community members will help ensure safe passage to and from school for our young people. The School District currently has funding to support eight “Safe Paths” for two school years, and is recommending that as part of the City’s Fiscal Year 2023 Budget, there is increased funding for Integrated Townwatch Services to replicate and expand the current “Safe Path” program.
Second, ensure young people have safe places after school, on weekends, during the summer, and other days when schools are closed. The School District is committed to working with the City and City Council to make our school buildings available to community organizations during non-school hours so that young people have a safe place to be. The School District supports a Fiscal Year 2023 Budget that includes funding to ensure all libraries and recreation centers are open after school, on the weekends, and throughout the summer. Additionally, the School District supports expanding Curfew Centers throughout the city, especially as we head into the summer months.
Third, create safety zones around schools and enforce gun laws.
While state preemption laws are frustrating, our current laws – including the prohibition on gun possession by minors – must be enforced by the police and the District Attorney to keep our communities safe.
Fourth, expand mental health services.
The School District has implemented a number of programs to support the social and emotional health of our school communities. For instance, we have a rapid response program in schools to help our communities respond to tragic events. However, our programs are not enough. Our young people and our staff need additional support outside of the school system. We must work together to provide a multi-pronged approach to addressing the mental health care provider shortage in the City.
Efforts to address the current need include:
– A support program serving school employees and others working directly with young people to provide counseling services and around-the-clock mental health care;
– A call on the Governor and the General Assembly to pass legislation that allows out-of-state practitioners to provide assistance via telemedicine to Pennsylvanians without the need to obtain commonwealth licensure.
– While in the short-term we need to expand the current mental health provider network, we also need long-term pipeline policies to build our provider capacity. The School District recommends: the creation of a Philadelphia Mental Health Service Corp where public funding could be used to provide training, scholarships, and loan repayment to individuals who commit to working with Philadelphians impacted by gun violence and trauma as well as the public workforce; and the establishment of public-private partnerships to increase the number of mental health care providers modeled on the University of Pennsylvania’s Leonard A. Lauder Community Care Nurse Practitioner Program.
Board Member Streater concluded his testimony by saying, “The critical point that I would like to make is that if we want our children to learn, thrive and succeed, then we must ensure they are safe and physically and emotionally healthy, so they are ready to learn. And we hope you will support our efforts to safeguard our children and help them realize their fullest potential in life.”