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A call for an investigation into reported use of pepper spray by police in school brawl

by thenotebook on Dec 21 2013 Posted in Latest news

by Paul Jablow

In two separate incidents this year, pepper spray has been used by police on students inside a Philadelphia school.

This week's news report about pepper spray used during an October fight at Benjamin Franklin High School has prompted the advocacy group Parents United for Public Education to call for the School Reform Commission and the Philadelphia School District to investigate the use of pepper spray on students by police officers.

"I'm concerned about collateral damage to kids not involved in the melee," said parent Maurice Jones, speaking for Parents United. "In a closed space, it can affect people not part of the situation. ... We're trying to figure out what the protocol is."

"The use of any chemical agent inside a building ... is of grave concern for all of us as parents," the group said in an emailed statement about the incident. It "does not de-escalate a situation. Instead it creates panic and adds to greater chaos and disruption. In a District where a number of students suffer from serious asthma and other respiratory ailments, and where medical personnel are scarce or non-existent, the use of chemical agents within a building poses a massive health and safety risk to all who are involved."

The group wants the School District to clarify its policies on such use of chemical agents by the District and outside entities such as the city police.

School District spokesman Fernando Gallard said the incident on Oct. 29 at Franklin occurred after the school cafeteria was locked down and searched by school police and city police because of a tip that a student had a weapon in the cafeteria. A fight broke out outside the cafeteria during the search, and a city police officer used pepper spray on one or more students, Gallard said. There were 12 arrests, and several students were recommended for expulsion. No weapon was found.

In an earlier case, Gallard said, pepper spray was used by a school police officer on a student in violation of District policy.

School police officers are not issued pepper spray, tear gas, or weapons and are forbidden to use them inside the school, Gallard said; the officer apparently obtained the pepper spray privately. But Gallard said that those rules do not apply to city officers called in.

Gallard said he was unable to provide further details on the incident involving school police.

City police declined to respond to inquiries about the incident at Franklin or about their policies for use of pepper spray.

Pepper spray, more formally called OC for Oleoresin Capsicum, functions as an inflammatory agent, irritating eyes and bronchial tubes, and is particularly irritating for people with asthma or allergies. Although some researchers have termed the spray nontoxic, the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California has said it was implicated in several deaths there and called for its banningResearchers at the University of North Carolina and Duke University have also raised the question of toxicity of propellants that are sometimes used in conjunction with the spray.

Parents United called on the District to document any use of pepper spray against students in the last three years and "reach a public agreement" with the Philadelphia Police Department on use of chemical agents by their officers inside schools.

Franklin has had an influx of new students this year from Vaux and University City High Schools after they were closed by the District. But Gallard said that according to principal Gregory Hailey, "the incident did not have a connection to any type of rivalry between groups of students."

Dale Mezzacappa contributed reporting to this post.

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Comments (46)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 12/21/2013 - 15:59.

The school police must have their hands tied behind their backs when breaking up a fight. The Philadelphia Police must leave their guns outside the school building too.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 12/21/2013 - 18:19.

Only 2 applications? That is a light touch. The district always seems overly focused on the rights of the violent and disruptive.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 12/21/2013 - 19:47.

Seems like those who first commented on this story are making an assumption about the facts. If you have a child with a breathing condition and some of the kids, (not all), are involved in a melee, and your child becomes affected by this painful agent I am sure those making comments about the rights of some and restrictions of police would change their tune. All the group seemed to me to be asking for is what is the protocol for it's use in an enclosed place.

That is not protecting any violent people's rights or restricting the police. It is protecting the innocent and their rights, which the last time I saw data on was the vast majority of us. Crime has gone down nation wide for many years along with graduation rates going up for our students, (although we do still have a problem in urban areas), so many people are making judgements on assumptions based on lack of facts and ignorance.

The majority of kids at Ben Franklin are bright, hard working, and engaging coming citizens. If you watch some media outlets you would think differently because they use the same assumptive and ignorant rhetoric that the first two commentors based their comments on. It is an ideology based on who attends the schools instead of what actually goes on there.

Submitted by Poogie (not verified) on Sat, 12/21/2013 - 21:32.

Yeah cannot be mean or too hard on the students assaulting others in hallways. Being mean to someone in the act of committing a felony may hurt self-esteem and result in lower test scores.

Be easy and let them think the World puts up with the same dysfunctional behavior that the Philadelphia School tolerates. That way when the repeat the acts after graduation the Police and everyone else will be easy on them like the school police.

Or Maybe Not! And the real cops may come down like a hammer.

Submitted by Milsy (not verified) on Sat, 12/21/2013 - 21:35.

Helen Gym and her allies should be ashamed. Taking the side of disruptive students. Excusing bad behavior. No one is accountable for their actions anymore. That is why our society is going down the drain and these schools are cesspools. Drew was a cesspool, Edison is a cesspool, and Wilson is going that way too.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 12/22/2013 - 15:43.

Helen did not take the side of disruptive students. She is fighting the education cuts that lead to these conditions. I know it is hard for self-centered people who think only of their own needs and fears, but there are people in this world who fight for the common good...that means for everyone regardless who they are. All through history people who fight for the common good are attacked by people who are full of fear and jealosy.

Submitted by Helen Gym on Sun, 12/22/2013 - 16:43.

How is calling for an investigation interpreted as taking the side of disruptive students and excusing bad behavior? The use of pepper spray and any chemical agent inside of a school building is expressly prohibited by District policy. Requesting an investigation then seems like it would be the logical next step to better understand what parents, students, families, and staff should expect. I am wondering why anyone could oppose an investigation into something which went against District policy?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 12/21/2013 - 22:00.

I used to work at Ben Franklin, unfortunately, I can say that too many times, the students "run the show". Many of the non-violent students can't even learn in the classroom due to the rude and disruptive students "taking the class hostage." I have seen teachers cry trying to teach! I have seen these melees first hand, they are not pretty and have turned to be very frightening! If my child attended Ben Franklin, I would be concerned about the violence AND how the violence is handled. In my estimation, it is not one thing, its everything! The school is out of control!

Submitted by Ken Derstine on Sat, 12/21/2013 - 23:08.

Far more frightening than the violence of lost and misguided youth are the invitations to state violence as evidenced by some of the adult comments here. We have the largest prison population per percentage of population than any country in the world. More than Russia, more than China, far more than Iran.
We have more people in prison than were slaves at the height of slavery in the United States.

Still the only solution offered by a large segment of our society is to meet violence with violence and put more people in cages while cutting education funding.

Where do you think we are going?

Submitted by Veteran teacher (not verified) on Sun, 12/22/2013 - 01:00.

Damn straight.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 12/22/2013 - 23:47.

It is the steadfast refusal to stand up to troublemakers that creates situations like this one. The district is run by wimps that are more concerned with doing the politically correct thing than standing by their own runs. They bend over backwards to protect the thug elements in our school. You seem to gloss over the fact that slaves were not given a choice of whether they wanted to be slaves. People in prison did have a choice and took the wrong one, but still want to blame everyone, but themselves for their troubles. Education funding has nothing to do with the lack of backbone in most school administrators. Touchy feely solutions don't work. Put paddling back into half of our schools and then let parents decide what they want. Having your child paddled is not such a problem when you compare it to the assualts, rapes, etc. that are happening in our schools now. Parents that discipline their children correctly won't have to worry about their kids getting paddled as they will know how to act. It will also discourage the troublemakers from attending that school.Try it, it will work.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 12/23/2013 - 02:51.

This is the mentality that makes us the highest in all the world in putting people in cages. Does someone choose to be born into poverty and have an educational system that is inequitably funded and prepares them for prison? You just want to put the repression of workers and the unemployed on steroids.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 12/22/2013 - 01:30.

This (both the incidents themselves and the above comments condoning them) is ridiculous! In one of these cases school police officer PRIVATELY OBTAINED PEPPER SPRAY which was then used in the school, AGAINST DISTRICT POLICY, in a room full of students ! How can this be deemed acceptable in any way?
As concerned students, parents, and teachers have been trying to tell the district for years now, the more you treat kids like criminals the more they will start playing the part!!!!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 12/22/2013 - 01:36.

Where is Gym?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 12/22/2013 - 09:08.

Use Wasp Spray instead. Think about it. It has a concentrated nozzle. Pepper spray goes all over the place. I got this recommendation from the AARP. They say to keep a can in your car. Or how about perfume or hairspray or Axe spray? Kids use these all the time ... during class!

Submitted by Joe K. (not verified) on Sun, 12/22/2013 - 10:58.

The truth is it's a very tough call and situation. Back in the day, History books talked about "Remote and Immediate Causes of Problems." The Remote cause of our inner city kids being so hostile and depressed is racism and all its pesky and nasty appendages. The kids feel trapped in a dark hole from which there is little chance of escaping. Having said that, during Immediate issues and for people who know me well like Sam, I am and have always been a strong advocate for STOPPING violence in schools ASAP and by almost any means necessary. I've run 2 different quasi prison sites. School Police have almost no chance to succeed with the current rules in place. No matter what they do, it's wrong. Same with The Phila. POPO. Yes, there is always a Gibroni who falls through the cracks but overall, School Police etc. are trying to maintain order and do the rights things. They're in the proverbial "Bad Situation," not by any fault of their own. They have their hands tied 24/7.

Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on Sun, 12/22/2013 - 14:01.

Joe, the bottom line is that if you have enough good school police officers, and enough good NTA's and enough good counselors and enough good noon-time aides, and a good school nurse, and a bunch of good teachers, and you have a decent assistant principal and a decent principal who can create the right kind of atmosphere of trust, and a TEAM spirit in buildings, a big portion of school violence can be -- nipped in the bud before it ever "goes down."

When violence does occur, under those circumstances, it can be, and usually is, dealt with positively and appropriately.

Submitted by Joe K. (not verified) on Sun, 12/22/2013 - 18:08.

Of course, you are right.

Submitted by Joe K. (not verified) on Mon, 12/23/2013 - 04:43.

Let me add though that the School Police and really all police, have little support and lots of responsibility. They're always in the unenviable position of being challenged 24/7, having to justify their actions to all comers.

Submitted by Annonym (not verified) on Sun, 12/22/2013 - 18:39.

Schools also need long term conflict resolution curricular programs. Is this tested - no - but we all need those skills. This is especially true in neighborhood high schools. Neighborhood high schools are the schools of "last resort" - there is a concentration of students with emotional / behavioral issues as well as academic issues. We need help - not sanctions and the threat of closure because we are in a very stratified school district.

Submitted by Joe K. (not verified) on Sun, 12/22/2013 - 19:08.

I guess you didn't get the memo. One of the "reformers" strategies, is to set up the real schools for failure JUST SO they can blame them as failing and close them. ALL of this is tied together and comes under the huge umbrella of "Churn" to quote Eli Broad. In any case, the ship of "should not be allowed" has long since sailed. And yes, in a couple months tall Billy and his peeps will authorize the closing of more real schools and replace them with mini corporations, i. e. charters. Read Chris Hedges speech about how corporations are destroying Democracy and that a much needed "Popular Uprising" is needed to stop this before we become a giant Wal Mart population of serfs with no rights.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 12/22/2013 - 12:06.

Here are my questions for those calling for an investigation into the use of pepper spray to break up a PUNK fight that led to 12 arrests and requests for multiple expulsions.

1) why are you not calling for an investigation into the violent acts like these fights that take part in Philadelphia schools daily and put students, teachers, administrators and school police in danger?
2) why are you not calling for an investigation into the School District policies that will put those 12 students arrested right back in Ben Franklin (or another school) after the Christmas break to continue raising hell and endangering staff and students?
3) why are you not calling for an investigation into how these violent acts, for the MOST PART, go unreported and are swept under the rug and kept out of the meida?
4) why in the world would you take the side of the kids that started this brawl and endangered the 99% of the kids at that school who want to learn and the teachers who want to teach? What if your kid was one of the innocent ones getting beat on, wouldn't you want the School Police to stop that in any way they had to under those conditions?

It's actions like this call for an investigation that teaches these kids (and their parents) that they are free to resort to violence as the first reaction to anything negative in their lives AND that they will get away with it. Hell, I bet those 12 kids and their families are talking to Lawyers right now preparing their lawsuit against the district, with the help of YOUR call for an investigation as supporting evidence, for violating their rights and police brutality.

I am a big supportor of Helen Gym and Parents United for Public Education, BUT you guys are on the wrong side, this time.

Submitted by Joe K. (not verified) on Sun, 12/22/2013 - 12:38.

OFF the subject but watch Chris Hedges speak about how Corporations are killing Democracy in the US. and that a "Popular Uprising" is greatly needed to restore worker rights and dignity.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 12/22/2013 - 13:00.

I agree with you 100%.

Submitted by Anonymous on Sun, 12/22/2013 - 13:42.

Obviously you did not read our statement nor must you be familiar with District policy which prohibits the use of chemical agents within buildings. Unless you were physically present at Ben Franklin High on that day I don't think anyone knows exactly what happened and in what context the pepper spray was used against District policy. Presuming that calling for an investigation means we are condoning violence is a pretty knee-jerk reaction. But you're more than welcome to contact us directly if you have concerns. 

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 12/22/2013 - 14:33.

Just so you know, the Philly police will use whatever force is necessary to stop a crime in progress. And yes, if someone is assaulting someone and it's not self defense, then they are criminals.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 12/22/2013 - 15:43.

And again. I'm not clear: Were you there? Do you know the circumstances under which this was used? Fight at Ben Franklin means everything's A-OK? The call is for an investigation.

Submitted by Helen Gym on Sun, 12/22/2013 - 16:45.

You can read the full context of our statement here:

Submitted by Philly Parent and Teacher (not verified) on Sun, 12/22/2013 - 18:52.

From the statement: "Parents United’s work is focused on the development of healthy safe learning environments. We do not tolerate violence or harassment of any kind in schools. At the same time, we must be vigilant that the tactics we use contribute to building safe and responsible school climates for all students. We look forward to working with you on this effort."

We need help in neighborhood high schools. There is obviously a shortage of staff - from the loss of School Operations Officers, to SISLS (I forget the acronym), academic supports, full nursing staff, (never had a librarian), teachers, ETC, ETC. Then, there is the concentration of students with the most needs in neighborhood high schools. (Yes, charters do "drop" students. Magnets do "drop" students. I have these students in my classes.)

As a parent and teacher of SDP students, I want a safe, nurturing learning environment for all students. I don't want my children or students to be bullied, threatened and certainly not beat up. There have to be clear consequences for those who violate the learning environment of others. This requires fully funded programs, resources and full staffing in place in September. Many neighborhood elementary, middle and high schools received new students this year but there was nothing in place to fully provide for the transition. The violence is a consequence. This doesn't excuse violent behavior by some students - as I wrote, there needs to be appropriate consequences. But, the SRC, Hite/Khin, Nutter, Corbett, etc. need to realize they can't turn their back on the most needy schools and continually threaten us with closure and sanctions and expect a miracle.

Submitted by Amy Reiss (not verified) on Thu, 01/02/2014 - 12:07.

Curious... What was the SDP's response for this investigation??

Submitted by JMH (not verified) on Sun, 12/22/2013 - 19:11.

Let me say this...none of these schools...not one ...will ever be the same with out the supports they had in years past. Incidents will continue to rise. The efforts of the current staff is herculean...all conscientious staff are doing everything in their power to mitigate these events...they are frustrated, exhausted and working harder than they ever had....the district is counting on the efforts of the good people...IT WILL NOT LAST!! Money is people...people mean eyes and ears and hearts...the ones that listen to kids...hear what's happening and then get in front of the problems.........when these people do not exist.....bad things happens.

Submitted by Annonym (not verified) on Sun, 12/22/2013 - 19:22.

Look at the staff list for Mastery Charters - layers of administrators and support staff. We are judged against Mastery yet we do not have the equivalent staff and can not require students/parents to sign a "by any means necessary" contract. This doesn't diminish the work of the teachers at Mastery - nor should the SDP/Hite/Khin/SRC/Nutter/PA Legislature/Corbett/etc. diminish the work of SDP neighborhood high school teachers. Instead, schools with more needs need more supports.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 12/22/2013 - 20:49.

This is the issue that Helen and her organization should be dealing with. Renaissance charters get more funding (School Improvement Grants), sweetheart deals on buildings, the ability to send kids to Camelot and a different set of rules. Meanwhile, other public schools have to struggle to get by and are ultimately going to be judged for their performance against Renaissance schools.

This results in increased violence in schools (lack of resources), higher teacher burn out, lower achievement and ultimately the closure of schools deemed ineffective and violent. Once closed, these schools are turned over to corporations. That's the plan. Kills the union, kills independent charters, and kills neighborhood schools.

They fight for pepper spray, but stay quiet while the district is sold off school by school to the Renaissance charters. Why are they quiet on this issue?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 12/22/2013 - 21:20.

You really haven't been paying attention have you? Look at their website and read all the articles (not just the one about this issue) and then get back to us...and how about joining in the fight instead of sitting in the bleachers and complaining.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 12/23/2013 - 10:16.

It is always easier to sit back and complain and pick at what is wrong. What's hard, is to actually make concrete change. And that's what these people do, YUC, PSU, PUPE, all sit back and jump on the the topic of the day and make themselves feel important because otherwise they don't have a life.

If these people are serious about effecting change , why dont they sit down with the underachieving schools and help the principals work with they have. Why don't they visit the top 10 violent schools and talk to the students about not bringing weapons and drugs into schools and to stop assaulting and robbing each other.

Why don't they? because it's easier to get your name in the paper and to stay relevant by being negative all the time.

Maurice Jones is now a spokesman for PUPE? Really? Another gadfly to add to the bunch. Isn't this the same guy who predicted dooms day when Wilson elementary students were going to attend his daughter's school, Lea? He wrote a long winded report, called a dozen meetings, hijacked home and school meetings all for a don't hear anything about issues at the Lea school.

Must be easy for Helen Gym to work or blog or whatever she does, for the notebook and have Dale and Paul be her media puppets.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 12/23/2013 - 10:34.

I guess that's what you think Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, George Washington and all those other malcontents should have done in 1776. Work with the colonists to get them to accept the monarchy. That way they are out of sight and out of mind.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 12/23/2013 - 11:19.

is that the best you got? to evoke the revolutionists? really? youre comparing the two issues? what's next? start quoting the constitution?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 12/23/2013 - 11:39.

Yup, that is the best I got. Too bad you don't understand that with your 4th of July flag waving.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 12/23/2013 - 11:01.

So where were you during South Philly High? Where were you when new bullying and harassment policies and student trainings were developed? Where were you? In your armchair making comments on other people's work?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 12/23/2013 - 11:22.

Those things were reactions. They were nowhere before South Philly but only proves the point that they come in as complainers and reactionaries instead of taking the initiative to go right at the root causes of violence, which 99% of the time is bad behavior and bad parenting. Go tackle those issues PUPE

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 02/02/2014 - 13:31.

And again, says the person making anonymous comments on a website complaining about people they perceive are complaining about complaints they deem irrelevant. Perfect.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 02/02/2014 - 13:29.

Says the person making anonymous comments on a website. Classic.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 12/23/2013 - 15:07.

The use of pepper spray is a legitimate topic to cover, but I have an issue with why it's only coming out now and why the article is centered around Parents United calling for an investigation. If The Notebook thinks that the violent incidents and use of pepper spray are a story, then write that story, but don't act like a puppet for Gym/Parents United. Is The Notebook going to write an article every time Parents United puts out a press release? Especially with the overlapping conflicts of interest with Helen's former editorial involvement with The Notebook and continuing presence as an opinion writer, this kind of sloppy work makes people question the professionalism and independent of the paper.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 12/24/2013 - 15:35.

So this is a legitimate issue unless Parents United addresses it. Has it ever occurred to you that maybe it's just a legitimate issue, and that your issue is the fact that a parents group is the one leading the charge?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 12/25/2013 - 02:32.

Philadelphia School Police are sworn police officers and the majority are retired Philadelphia Police Officers! School District spokesman has it wrong again, school police officers are issued Pepper Spray and it's exclusive to their street patrol officers, they are even issued batons and trained on crowd control and other defensive tactics, but again it's exclusive to the street patrol officers, not officers assigned to schools! The training is clear and it's written policy, school district police, even when trained, are forbidden to use any equipment inside of any building or in closed area! The problem here is when officers are reassigned from street patrol, or promoted they retain such equipment, in part, due to the training acquired! School district command needs to review such reassignment and remove such equipment from these officers, so the temptations of using such equipment won't rise and allow Philadelphia police to use their equipment instead! The problem with Sgt. Johnathan Robinson's use of pepper spray is unclear but needs to be investigated! He was administrative sergeant and was removed from 440 because of his display of equipment on his person, but instead of disciplining this officer he was assigned to a high school!

Submitted by geciktirici sprey (not verified) on Mon, 02/03/2014 - 15:52.

Try this site, it may help you. Goodluck!

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