Aug 23, 2022 - News

Philly unveils new efforts to keep students safe this school year

Illustration of school backpack covered with caution tape.
Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Philadelphia is mobilizing more police officers and community members to help keep students safe as the district readies to start the new school year next week.

Driving the news: The Philadelphia School District, police and city leaders laid out their student safety plan on Monday, which includes boosting officers at 40 district and charter schools through its Safe Zones program.

  • The district and Police Department have established 27 "zones," primarily around middle and high schools, where uniformed officers will be present to help students leave school safely during dismissal.
  • The areas were selected due to high levels of violence around them, city officials said.

Why it matters: Homicides in Philadelphia have surpassed historically high levels during this time last year, and young people are at increasing risk of falling victim to gun violence.

  • 146 young people under the age of 18 have been shot this year, of which 20 have been killed, police told Axios.

The plan: The district also announced Monday that community members hired through its Safe Path program will provide extra support around eight high schools during dismissal this year.

  • Most schools will have resource officers, who are unarmed.
  • Plus: The district hired at least two mental health workers to assist with school threats and created mediation response teams to assist with conflict resolution among students and adults.

By the numbers: The district responded to 225 threats inside district schools last year, Kevin Bethel, the district's chief safety officer, said during the news conference.

  • 819 shooting victims were reported within 500 feet of schools (including public, charter and private) from Aug. 22, 2021 through Sunday, police said.

Of note: The district has decided not to continue screening and searching middle school students for weapons this school year, after implementing the policy in May in response to an increase in gun violence in the city. But Bethel didn't rule out putting the program back in place in the future.

  • Students at all district high schools will continue to be screened and K-9 units will conduct searches outside the schools.

What they're saying: Bethel maintained schools are the safest place for students, but acknowledged "there's a lot of fear in a lot of our young people."

  • "We are prepared to deal with the issues that come into our schools," he said.
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