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by Dale Mezzacappa
About a quarter of students initially referred for expulsion by their schools since August 2009 were not ultimately expelled by the School Reform Commission, according to an analysis of 13 months of data by the Education Law Center (ELC).
And the rate of rejection is going up. Since April, more than one-third of the cases brought to the SRC did not result in expulsion.
During the 13-month period, 76 of 324 students referred for expulsion were not expelled. Because of confidentiality restrictions, it is unclear in how many cases the decision not to expel was made by the School District’s hearing officer and ratified by the SRC and in how many the SRC overturned the hearing officer’s recommendation.
Still, the reversals point to the possibility that schools are recommending students for expulsion without learning enough about the circumstances of the incident, or that the District’s zero tolerance discipline policy leaves too little discretion to school administrators and hearing officers in the earliest stages of the process.
“I think that what’s happening is everybody is becoming much more conscious of the process and its direct impact … for children,” said SRC member Johnny Irizarry. “It’s happening both at staff level and most definitely at the SRC level.”
A coalition of advocacy groups called Community Responses to Zero Tolerance, which includes ELC, has been asking the SRC to review its expulsion process, if not the entire zero tolerance approach.
Irizarry said in considering expulsions, the commission is trying to walk a “fine line” between keeping schools safe for all students and teachers and not ruining too many educational futures.
“You could have a tumultuous teenage life and become president,” Irizarry said. “We’re looking at how legally can we do things so young people’s lives are not totally destroyed by this. … We’re trying to take steps to humanize the process.”
The zero tolerance policy requires schools to refer a student for expulsion for any “level two” violation of the code of student conduct, which includes acts of violence and possessing drugs or a weapon in school, even if the weapon is not used. The definition of weapon is very broad and can include art supplies such as scissors.
Reacting to high-profile incidents and concern about inconsistent discipline, Superintendent Arlene Ackerman in 2008 revived the District’s expulsion policy at the urging of the state’s former safe schools advocate and with the full support of Mayor Michael Nutter.
But the recent task force on Latino and Black males that was led by Irizarry and SRC chairman Robert Archie raised questions about whether zero tolerance has been effective in curbing violence and whether it is fair to students. It recommended more use of proactive discipline policies that set clear behavioral norms and create a climate of respect in the school, including Positive Behavior Supports and restorative practices.
Irizarry said that the task force was not asking for the zero tolerance to be abandoned. “Bringing a gun or a knife into school, and assaulting another child to the point of sending them to the hospital, we can’t say it is just a little mistake of youth,” Irizarry said. “But we have to provide interventions. And many of our schools are not set up for intervention.”
Each student who is referred for expulsion goes through an informal transfer hearing, required to take place within 10 days, and then a more formal hearing on whether or not to uphold the expulsion, for which there is no set timeline. At one time, the time lag was as long as six months.
“The time from when a student is charged with an alleged expellable infraction to a formal hearing and eventual SRC vote still commonly takes over two months,” the Community Responses to Zero Tolerance coalition wrote to the SRC in September. “Too many of these 76 students languished in disciplinary schools for months waiting for this decision” overturning their expulsion.
The coalition’s letter also said that the District has been slow to seriously adopt some alternative approaches, like Positive Behavior Supports. PBS trains teachers and administrators to look for trouble spots in the school and intervene with students before their behavior gets out of hand. Restorative practices involve having students reflect on their misbehavior and make amends for the damage their actions cause.
Irizarry said tinkering with the policy is a “delicate issue.”
Zero tolerance is politically popular, regarded as a needed method to remove bad actors from schools for the sake of everyone else. However, both in Philadelphia and nationally, evidence is scant that the policy reduces the number of violent incidents and makes schools safer.
“Reading these cases for the past year and a half has shown to me how complicated this stuff is also how we can find much better humane alternatives if we listen to the research,” Irizarry said. “We need to engage students, create school based programs that empower them, and train adults how to become more trusted by students.”
Both Irizarry and Commissioner Joseph Dworetzky said that studying expulsion cases consumes a hefty percentage of the time they spend on School District work.
“We spend more time than any of us would like to spend on this issue,” said Dworetzky, an attorney. “I think we have to continually look at the whole process of expulsions.”
In considering the cases, Dworetzky said, “We owe a duty to students for school to be a safe place for them, and if somebody committed a weapons or a violence violation that puts others in an unsafe position, it’s important to address that. At the same time, we all have a really strong sense of trying to do the right thing for the individual. We’re dealing with kids, particularly as they are younger, what they do in a given situation can easily be the kind of mistake they can get past, and we might be reluctant to do things that can have long-term consequences.”
To mitigate these consequences, the SRC has adopted a policy that spells out a process for expelled students to be readmitted to school and for their record to be expunged.
Dworetzky also said he was encouraged that the alternative schools set up to take in some expelled students, Philadelphia Learning Academy North and South, have good programs. About 20 percent of students whose expulsions are temporary rather than permanent want to stay there when they are eligible to return to regular District schools, he said.
Advocates pushing for change in the policy say that they are not asking for schools to downplay bad behavior.
“We want schools certainly to take misbehavior seriously,” said ELC attorney David Lapp, “but to have more focus on preventative measures, like creating schools that kids want to be at.”
Last March ELC released a report on the vast alternative education network for disruptive youth that has grown up in Pennsylvania over the past 15 years. It noted that there has been little data collected about whether students who cycled through these alternative schools ever graduated or wound up in the criminal justice system.
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At its October meetings, the School Reform Commission:
Heard a District report on the first year or Phase I of Imagine 2014 and the process and implementation goals for Phase II of the reform plan. Jennie Wu, deputy for Strategic Planning and Implementation noted increases in PSSA proficiencies in both reading and math, increases in the on-time and six-year graduation rates, and fewer teacher vacancies on the first day of school. The progress report also indicated decreases in parent satisfaction with their child’s school and principal. Other areas where the District fell short include: closing the achievement gap in reading, increasing grade 3 PSSA reading proficiency rates, increasing the percentage of teachers of color, and improving retention numbers for new teachers, which according to Chief Talent Development Officer Estelle Matthews will be addressed by a new teacher support and retention plan to be developed in December.
Heard the final report from members of the African American and Latino Male Dropout Taskforce about ways to increase graduation rates and improve the educational and life outcomes among these students. A draft of the report was released in September. Taskforce chair Bill McKinney said “the challenge is a large one,” noting that the six-year cohort dropout rates for Black and Latino males are 43 percent and 51 percent, respectively, and that for students who don’t graduate from high school, average earnings are less than $10,000 per year. Other recommendations included: providing in-school mentors for all students; cultural competency training for teachers and staff; establishing single-sex classes; increasing peer mentoring opportunities; increasing partnerships with social service agencies, community based organizations, and mental health providers to ensure that resources are allocated where needed; and adding advanced placement courses at all schools. SRC Chair Robert Archie and Commissioner Johnny Irizarry served as chairs of the taskforce.
Heard the first quarter financial report presented by Chief Financial Officer Michael Masch, who said that the District would close the fiscal year with its $3.2 billion consolidated budget in balance, but would have to come up with creative ways to deal with the loss of $250 million annually in federal stimulus dollars when the funds run out July 1. “There are things to be concerned about … (and) we will have to wrestle this spring with making some very tough budget decisions,” he said.
Heard from a small group of West Philadelphia High School students led by senior Marie Hines regarding the deteriorating climate at the school. Students blame the climate issues on turnover of principals and the breakdown of the academy structure. Hines said she was speaking out even though she was afraid of retaliation, but interim Principal Chapman and Associate Superintendent Tomás Hanna later assured students that they would be heard through listening sessions and small group discussions with no consequences for expressing their concerns.
Heard testimony from parent Kennesha Bell about problems with the District’s school bus routes. Bell said drivers are often late and sometimes don’t show up at all. Bell said that she has had to leave her job to drive her child and other children stranded at the bus stops to school because drivers have ignored scheduled pickup times. John Lombardi, administrator for the District’s transportation services, said that he is working on improving performance by assigning a street supervisor to monitor the bus routes. But a visibly annoyed Superintendent Ackerman said, “I don’t think it’s good enough to say ‘We’re working on it.'” Ackerman said that this issue was raised by many parents at her September parent roundtable, and that “my office is now paying close attention to fixing these bus routes.” The route in question is operated by Durham School Services, a Texas-based firm.
Recognized Masterman High School and Franklin Learning Center, both recently named as Blue Ribbon Schools by the U. S. Department of Education. The schools are among the 304 public and private schools nationwide - and 14 in Pennsylvania - to earn the honor this year. Both are repeat Blue Ribbon winners. The Blue Ribbon Schools award program recognizes schools whose students achieve at very high levels or have made significant progress and helped close the achievement gaps, especially among disadvantaged and minority students.
Approved the appointment of Deputy Superintendent/Deputy Chief Executive Officer Leroy Nunery at a salary of $230,000 to be made retroactive to June 7, the date when he began serving that role. Nunery was formerly chief of institutional advancement and strategic partnerships for the District, earning then an annual salary of $180,000.
Voted to approve a $10 million contract with various Supplemental Educational Service vendors to provide Title I supplemental education services to income-eligible students. Providers include: A Plus Test Prep and Tutoring, Catapult Learning, LLC, Huntington Learning Center, and Sylvan Learning Center.
Approved a $9 million contract to install surveillance equipment at some of the District’s most violent schools. As part of the District’s Project Safe Schools Initiative, cameras will be placed in schools identified as persistently dangerous.
Voted to accept professional development services and materials from Children’s Literacy Initiative to develop 3rd grade model classrooms and grade-level readers, and to support existing model kindergarten and 1st grade classrooms.
Voted to expel eight students.
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Mon. Nov. 1. City Year Open House. 2-7 p.m. City Year Greater Philadelphia, 2221 Chestnut St., Floor 2. Stop by to learn about how you can keep students in school and on track. Young leaders 17 to 24 years old, professors, family and friends, and anyone else who wants to learn more about City Year are invited to attend. For information, to register, visit http://cyphillyopenhouse.eventbrite.com/.
Mon. Nov. 1. Live, Online Session: The Life Course Perspective. 4-5:30 p.m. Learn how to use this course to improve the health of Pennsylvania’s youth. Sponsored by Center for Schools and Communties. For information and to register, visit http://www.center-school.org/life-course-11-01-2010.php.
Tue. Nov. 2. School Advisory Committee (SAC) Training. 12:30-3 p.m. Thurgood Marshall School, 5120 N. 6th St. (at Lindley). District training event is open to all parents with children in District schools who are interested in being part of a school council. For information and to register, call 215-400-6268 or email email@example.com.
Wed. Nov. 3. Introduction to Title I Prep Workshops. 9:30 a.m. at the NE Area Parent and Family Resource Center, 4101 Chalfont Dr., and 10 a.m. at Enterprise Center, 46th & Market Sts. These workshops will discuss the parent engagement policy and parent-school compacts. For information, call 215-400-4180.
Thu. Nov. 4 & 18. “Beyond the Bake Sale” Book Club and Literacy Circle. 10 a.m. School District of Philadelphia Education Center, 440 N. Broad St. At this event, participating parents will receive a free book. For information, call 215-400-4180.
Sat. Nov. 6. “Beyond the Bricks” National Town Hall Meeting. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Community College of Philadelphia, Winnet Building, 17th & Spring Garden Sts. Come discuss this documentary that follows two African-American boys as they struggle to stay on track in the Newark, N.J. public school system, and help create solutions-based action items around how communities can address problems with Black males in schools. Event is free. For information and to register, visit http://philadelphiabtbtownhall.eventbrite.com.
Sat. Nov. 6. Celebration of Writing and Literacy. 8:30 a.m.-2 p.m. University of Pennsylvania, Graduate School of Education, 36th and Walnut Sts. Join the Philadelphia Writing Project for facilitated discussions centering around important educational issues and hands-on, teacher-led workshops. Includes a session, “Finding Your Blogger’s Voice,” with Notebook blogger Samuel Reed III and Contributing Editor Dale Mezzacappa. Act 48 credits are available. Cost is $25. For information and to RSVP email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sun. Nov. 7. Love Difference Celebration. 10:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Philadelphia Museum of Art, 26th St. and Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Celebrate differences and lessen distances while touring the “Michelangelo Pistoletto: Cittadellarte” exhibition, creating your own make-and-take art, and listening to the Spoken Hand Percussion Orchestra. Free tickets required after museum admission. For information, call 215-684-7580 or e-mail email@example.com.
Tue. Nov. 9. Youth Power Summit: Building a Movement for Nonviolent Schools. 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Community College of Philadelphia, 1700 Spring Garden St. Students from the following high schools are especially encouraged to attend: Audenried, Bartram, Ben Franklin, Carroll, Edison, Fels, FitzSimons, Frankford, Furness, Germantown, Gratz, Kensington Business, Kensington Culinary, King, Lamberton, Lincoln, Northeast, Olney East & West, Overbrook, Roxborough, Sayre, South Philadelphia, Strawberry Mansion, University City, Vaux, and West Philadelphia. Students who attend will receive an excused absence, and breakfast and lunch will be provided. For information and to register visit http://youthpowersummit.eventbrite.com.
Tue. Nov. 9. Education Policy Update and Discussion. 5:30 p.m. Kingsessing Branch Public Library, 1201 S. 51st St. Join Education Voters of Pennsylvania for a discussion about key education issues affecting your children today. For information, call 215-685-2690.
Tue. Nov. 9. Philadelphia Home and School Council General Meeting. 10 a.m.-12 p.m. School District of Philadelphia Education Center, Room 1080, 440 N. Broad St. For information, call 215-400-4080.
Wed. Nov. 10. School Reform Commission Planning Meeting. 2 p.m. School District of Philadelphia Education Center, 440 North Broad St. To register to speak, call 215-400-4180 by 4:30 p.m. the day before the meeting.
Wed. Nov. 10. Words on the Street. 6 p.m. The Chestnut Club, Arcadia Theatre, 1529 Chestnut St. This event is the kickoff of a partnership between best-selling author Solomon Jonesand Art Sanctuary for a literacy program that includes student/parent writing workshops and a curriculum based on Solomon Jones’s new novel, The Last Confession. Cost is $30, benefits Art Sanctuary, and includes an autographed copy of the book. Sponsors include Verizon. To register, visit http://words.eventbrite.com/.
Fri. Nov. 12– Sat. Nov. 13. Pennsylvania School-Age Child Care Alliance Conference. Holiday Inn, 4751 Lindel Rd., Harrisburg. Join hundreds of Pennsylvania colleagues for 2 days of intense, informational, and valuable workshops, state and nationally recognized speakers, and in-depth discussion of some of the most important and timely topics affecting today’s school-age care and afterschool professionals. Registration starts at $120. For information, visit http://www.pennsacca.net/conference.html.
Sat. Nov. 13. Eastern North Philadelphia Youth Leadership Summit. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. LaSalle University, 1900 W. Olney Ave. Join the ENPYSC Youth Leaders for their first annual “Let’s Walk and Talk” 2010 Youth Leadership Summit, with topics including college, the portrayal of urban youth in the media, gang violence, improving communication between adults and youth, and helping out-of-school youth return to school. For information, visit http://www.enpyscyouthsummit.com/.
Sat. Nov. 13. Curricular Connections: Art and the Story. 10 a.m.-noon. Philadelphia Museum of Art, Wachovia Education Resource Center, Perelman Building, 26th and Benjamin Franklin Parkway. This workshop, designed for language arts and literacy educators, examines ways to connect the printed word with the visual world. Cost is $5 for museum members and $7 for non-members. Space is limited. For information, call 215-684-7580 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sat. Nov. 13. Family First Session. 12-4 p.m. Pelbano Recreation Center (Rhawnhurst), 8101 Bustleton Ave. Come increase your understanding of your child’s Individual Family Service Plan and Individualized Education Plan. Also, get information on how to access services and supports to enhance your child’s development. For information, call Cathy Roccia-Meier at 215-204-1772 or email cathyRM@temple.edu.
Sun. Nov. 14-Wed. Nov. 17. National Dropout Prevention Center’s 22nd Annual Conference. Loews Philadelphia Hotel, 1200 Market St. Conference attendees will be able to attend workshops on effective strategies for keeping youth engaged and on track to graduation, hear from national experts on dropout prevention and re-engagement, and participate in site visits to see best practices in action. For information and to register, visit the National Dropout Prevention Center/Network site.
Sun. Nov. 14. Education Nation Competition Application Deadline. Tell NBC 10 about a program you participate in or want to start up that needs funding, a program that will have a big impact on the level of education your school provides. The most innovative, game-changing idea will be awarded $5,000. Applicants must be 13 years or older in a public high school. For information, visit http://www.nbcphiladelphia.com/brchannel/103556179.html.
Tue. Nov. 16. 2010 EDDY Awards. 5:30-8 p.m. Drexel University, Edmund D. Bossone Research Enterprise Center, Market St. between 31st and 32nd. The Philadelphia Education Fund will award the 2010 Stars of Public Education and celebrate its 25th anniversary. Minimum ticket cost is $250. RSVP by November 10. For information, call 215-665-1400 or buy tickets at http://philaedfund.givezooks.com/events/2010-eddy-awards.
Wed. Nov. 17. School Reform Commission Action Meeting. 2 p.m. School District of Philadelphia Education Center, 440 North Broad St. To register to speak, call 215-400-4180 by 4:30 p.m. the day before the meeting.
Wed. Nov. 17. “Teaching Literacy Through Spoken Word.” 5:30-8:30 p.m. Penn State Great Valley, 30 E. Swedesford Rd., Malvern. An Act 48 workshop hosted by the Art Sanctuary. For information, call 215-232-4485.
Wed. Nov. 17. Autism Sharing and Parenting Meeting. 6:15-8 p.m. CBH, 8th & Market Sts. Come hear about how to increase awareness of autism and share experiences with other families with autistic children. For information and to RSVP, call 215-413-7106 or email NASYA06@MSN.COM.
Every Tue. Philadelphia, HUNE. Inc. provides free bilingual (English/Spanish) special education training sessions. 9:30 a.m.-12 p.m. 2200 N. 2nd St. (corner of Susquehanna Ave.). For information, call 215-425-6203.
“Smiles are Free” Tutoring in your Community. Take advantage of free tutoring in math and language arts for students grades K-12. For information and to find a location near you, call 215-873-7819 or visit email@example.com.
Mon.-Fri. Family Literacy Programs. 8 a.m.-4 p.m. PathwaysPA Wissahickon, 4700 Wissahickon Ave., Bldg. C, Ste. 101 (corner of Wissahickon Ave. & Abbottsford Rd.). Enjoy free classes on GED, adult basic education, and work readiness skills. For information, call 215-549-2686.
Every Tue. Father’s Club. 6:30-8:30 p.m. West Philadelphia Branch of YMCA, 5120 Chestnut St. For information, call 215-476-2700 or email Jaustin@philaymca.org.
Tue. Nov. 2. Election Day, Professional Development Day. Staff only.
Thu. Nov. 11. Veterans Day. School and administrative offices closed.
Thu. Nov. 25 & Fri. Nov. 26. Thanksgiving holiday. School and administrative offices closed.
The Notebook NEWSFLASH welcomes brief announcements of events addressing issues of quality and equity in Philadelphia public schools. Email your submission to firstname.lastname@example.org with 'Upcoming event' in the subject line. We cannot guarantee the listing of your event.
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