This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
In April 2005, a gang of boys assaulted Daniel Shaw, then a sophomore at Franklin Learning Center (FLC), on his way home from school. What happened in the aftermath illustrates how disciplinary issues are often closely intertwined with behavioral health issues, and how vital it is that schools offer behavioral health services.
Although Shaw, now 20, was not seriously injured in the assault, the violent encounter left him shaken. Shaw’s mother called the District’s safe schools hotline as well as the police. But since her son was unable to identify his assailants, there was nothing the police could do. His school suggested that Shaw speak with a counselor who provided psychiatric services for the District.
“I don’t think [the counselor] took the assault too seriously, to say the least,” said Shaw. “He said he thought I was handling it pretty well, and that if I needed help, I should seek outside counseling because there wasn’t anything the District could do.”
But Shaw wasn’t handling the assault well. To make matters worse, his mother was receiving chemotherapy at the time and was not able to arrange for outside counseling.
A few weeks after the assault, a friend gave Shaw a knife for self-protection. Shaw put it in his pocket and unthinkingly brought it to school. When the knife set off the metal detector at FLC, he was arrested. At the District hearing to determine whether Shaw would be permitted to return to FLC, the earlier assault on him was not considered pertinent enough to override the violation. He was sent to Community Education Partners (CEP) in Hunting Park.
“Being sent to a disciplinary school took a heavy hit on my psyche,” Shaw says. The atmosphere at CEP shocked him. “There was no academics going on—just discipline.”
To make matters worse, he was assaulted within the school. After this assault, he was separated from the majority of the students and put in an honors program.
The upside of the experience was that Shaw did get therapy and medication every day at CEP through People Acting to Help, Inc. (PATH), an agency that ran a mental health program inside the school. It was at this time that Shaw was identified as suffering from depression, post-traumatic stress, and bipolar disorders. But unable to tolerate the rigid atmosphere at CEP, he dropped out in February 2006.
After stints at several alternative schools, Shaw has been a student at the Accelerated Learning Academy (ALA) at Front and Hunting Park since January 2008, where the independently paced, computer-based curriculum suits his learning style.
“I like it a lot. It’s probably the best fit I’ve been in,” he said. The only downside is that there is no in-house behavioral health service at ALA, so Shaw’s scheduled visits with his outside health provider cut into instructional time.
What does Shaw draw from his experience? In general, he thinks the zero tolerance policy is flawed.
Disciplinary placements are made without consideration of behavioral health issues, he said. “That’s one issue that needs to be remedied,” he added, if the District is serious about expanding its behavioral health services.