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Human Relations hearings focus on school violence

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

The violence at South Philadelphia High School last December served as a catalyst for the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations (PCHR) to schedule a series of public hearings on the topic.

School violence victims, parents, administrators, and teachers have already attended two of 11 scheduled meetings to speak about their experiences.

“Our goal is to focus on finding ways to ameliorate a part of the problem,” said Rabbi Rebecca Alpert, a PCHR commissioner.

“South Philadelphia High is not an exception to the rule … [it is just] one example.”

First-hand accounts of unchecked school violence dominated the initial hearing held in January.

At the second hearing, held in West Philadelphia in March, members of the Philadelphia Student Union, City Year, and other education and youth organizations suggested solutions.

The need to engage students and establish an open dialogue with their peers and educators was a common thread throughout the night’s testimonials.

Timothy McKenna, principal at Furness High School, explained how he curtailed violence in his school. He said he reminds students every morning and afternoon over the PA system that teachers and faculty are there to listen. Should conflict arise, the adults care and will be there to help.

Although the PCHR hearings are independent of the School District, commissioners encouraged attendees to submit their stories and ideas to the District, with the expectation that District staff will implement any suggestions by the end of the yearlong process.

“We really want to get the data together, and it is our hope the District will pay attention,” Alpert said.

For a schedule of future hearings, visit www.phila.gov/humanrelations.

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