A dozen Phila. schools on 'dangerous' list

The number rose from nine last year. Serious incidents were up 55%, reflecting a tough year at several schools.

Posted: September 15, 2007

A dozen Philadelphia public schools - three more than last year - have landed on the state's list of "persistently dangerous" schools, based on the number of arrests made for serious incidents during the 2006-07 academic year.

Even more alarming is that the number of serious incidents, such as assaults, that resulted in arrests rose from 261 at nine schools in 2005-06 to 405 at 12 schools - a 55 percent jump.

The rise reflects a tumultuous academic year at several schools that saw a spike in serious assaults on teachers. A math teacher's neck was broken at Germantown High School in February, and a music teacher suffered a broken jaw at West Philadelphia High School in November. Students were arrested and charged with aggravated assault in both cases.

Every year, the state Department of Education releases a list of persistently dangerous schools. Those listed report a high number of arrests for serious incidents for more than one year. The calculation considers enrollment.

Germantown and West Philadelphia High Schools have been on the state's dangerous list for several years.

The department quietly posted the latest list on its Web site this week.

Although a school in the Chester Upland School District was on the list in 2003-04, for the last several years Philadelphia has been the only district in the state to have schools on the list.

Michael Race, an Education Department spokesman, said the fact that a dozen Philadelphia schools were on the new list "is partly a reflection of the fact Philadelphia schools have been diligent in self-reporting violent incidents, as the law requires."

He said the state had notified the listed schools so administrators could inform parents. Parents of students at persistently dangerous schools have the right to apply to transfer their children to another school under the federal No Child Left Behind law.

But Greg Wade, president of Philadelphia's Home and School Council, said that in reality, the chances of parents' being able to transfer children to other Philadelphia schools were slim.

"Because of overcrowding, transferring is virtually impossible," he said. "The fact of the matter is that the schools you could transfer to are booked. They are full to the gills."

James B. Golden, the district's chief safety executive, said yesterday that while the number of serious incidents rose at the 12 schools on the state's list, the safety picture was better across the district as a whole.

"I think in those schools, we have seen an increase in the number of assaults and weapons and other offenses," he said. "Overall, we only saw a 1 percent increase in serious incidents throughout the district."

Golden pointed out that serious incidents had declined by 13.5 percent in the 2005-06 year.

In March, in the aftermath on the assault that left Germantown math teacher Frank Burd with a broken neck, Police Commissioner Sylvester M. Johnson pledged that police would respond to all calls of assaults on school staff and make arrests if the victim approved.

District spokesman Fernando Gallard said officials were analyzing last year's data and could not say whether having more city police in and around the schools resulted in the higher number of arrests.

Lt. Frank Vanore, a spokesman for the Police Department, said the commissioner had made a commitment to work closely with school police. He added that individual police captains also have emphasized school safety.

After looking at the state's list of dangerous schools, Vanore said: "They have police officers assigned to many of these schools."

Golden attributed some of the increase in arrests to stepped-up efforts to prevent weapons from entering schools. He said that metal detectors at high school entrances had found weapons, and that school police and city police had also found guns and other weapons near schools that had resulted in arrests.

Police confiscated 13 guns in or around district schools last school year, including arrests at four schools on the state list.

Germantown and Lincoln each reported an arrest for guns inside the school; Overbrook and South Philadelphia each reported an arrest for guns on school grounds.

To improve safety and reduce violence at the 12 listed schools, Golden said, the district had increased the number of school police and security personnel by "approximately one-third."

He could not provide the exact number because the district was closed for Rosh Hashanah yesterday.

Golden also said the district was providing additional support at 28 other troubled schools to improve safety and prevent them from landing on the list.

Jerry T. Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, said that district cuts in the number of nonteaching assistants, counselors and other support staff in the schools were a major factor in increased violence that resulted in schools' being labeled dangerous.

"When I look at these schools, there are some that do not have any NTAs whatsoever," he said, referring to the nonteaching assistants.

"The adult-to-student ratio in the vast majority of these schools has been diminished to the degree that young people are not finding the adults with whom they are able to connect and bond and to receive the guidance they need."

To view the state report, go to http://go.philly.com/danger

Contact staff writer Martha Woodall at 215-854-2789 or martha.woodall@phillynews.com.

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