The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has created a position within the Department of Education to act as an advocate for victims of violence in Philadelphia’s public schools.
Gov. Ridge signed legislation in December forming the position of “safe-schools advocate” for the city’s 210,000-student school district.
The new position comes in response to a yearlong state House subcommittee’s investigation into violence in the school system.
“Litigation has moved the district very far in the direction of not being too hard on offenders,” said State Rep. Alan Butkovitz (D.-Phila.), cochair of the subcommittee. “Basically, the idea here is that there has to be a counterforce.”
The House subcommittee released a lengthy report criticizing the district for transferring some problem students to other regular public schools in the district and for failing to expel all of its weapons offenders.
As detailed in the legislation, the advocate will monitor district disciplinary procedures to make sure they comply with the law, attend disciplinary hearings on behalf of victims, and work with victims in cases in which perpetrators are allowed to return to the same school.
District officials said they supported the concept. “Safety is our No. 1 priority, so we welcome this development as one that can only help us to promote safer schools,” said Alexis Moore, district spokeswoman.
Moore noted that the district was spending about $22 million on security this year and had contracted with a private firm to educate some of the most disruptive students in a separate location.
The House subcommittee also recommended that the district be required to notify teachers of any students in their classes who have been incarcerated and the nature of their offenses, and it advocated changes in state and federal law that would make special-education students subject to stiffer penalties for discipline problems than they currently face.