Philadelphia Schools Grapple with Violence A spate of violence against teachers in Philadelphia's schools has led to stringent punishment for kids and an emergency phone line for teachers.
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Philadelphia Schools Grapple with Violence

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Philadelphia Schools Grapple with Violence

Philadelphia Schools Grapple with Violence

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This is DAY TO DAY from NPR News. I'm Luke Burbank.


I'm Madeleine Brand. Big problems at a high school in Philadelphia -student fights, assaults on teachers and small fires actually on campus over the last week.

Stephanie Marudas of member station WHYY visited the school - West Philadelphia High School.

Mr. DAVID JAMES (Senior Student, West Philadelphia High School): News everywhere. We had three helicopters in the air. That was just sad.

STEPHANIE MARUDAS: That's what Philadelphia senior David James recounting an evacuation earlier this week after two small fires were set inside the school. James is a student union representative and believes the latest fires are in response to a recent changeover of principals in the school.

But fellow student union representative and 10th-grader Kendell Bolton(ph) believes it's the school's climate that breeds hostility and violence.

Mr. KENDELL BOLTON (Student, West Philadelphia High School): I believe the reason why people act up is because our - what they got go through before they get in this school. They got to get patted down, through metal detectors, which makes them angry. So they think that, they think I'm a criminal, so I might as well act like a criminal.

MARUDAS: Bolton also thinks more learning would occur with more counselors and less security guards. But the tough school environment was too much to handle for 55-year-old music teacher Ed Klein. He left the school within a month.

Mr. ED KLEIN (Music Teacher, West Philadelphia High School): The kids would come into the classroom and put on their desks a bag from McDonalds, a variety of electronic devices, their cell phones. They would make phone calls from class. There were times I just thought I was in the Twilight Zone. And then I would ask them to put the stuff away or eat outside in the hall, and I would be met with such overt hostility.

MARUDAS: Klein says he had a hard time controlling his classes, so he called parents, which seemed to do the trick - except in one class.

Mr. KLEIN: One of the students came up to me and said, you had better stop calling our parents, or you're going to be in trouble.

MARUDAS: After suffering several assaults and racial abuse, Klein was ready to give it all up. And then...

Mr. KLEIN: A kid came into my room. I said, you don't belong in this class. He began to move towards me saying get the F- out of my face. I raised my hands, and that's the last I remember. He hit me so hard that I was knocked unconscious. I had two large welts on the back of my head from a stationary door that was behind me. I'm assuming that my brain slapped against my skull, causing the concussion that I suffered, and he broke my jaw on the right side.

MARUDAS: Four months later, Klein is still traumatized and unsure about returning to teaching. Last week, Philadelphia School District chief executive Paul Vallas announced new disciplinary measures against students.

Ms. PAUL VALLAS (Chief Executive, Philadelphia School District): If you assault a teacher or if you threaten a teacher, you're going to be arrested. You're going to be suspended for 10 days. You can be processed for expulsion. Period.

MARUDAS: The school district's response to the latest chaos has been to assign more adults to monitor hallways and bring in a new principal with an Army background. But consultant Ellen Greene-Ceisler thinks creating a paramilitary environment is a bad idea.

Ms. ELLEN GREENE-CEISLER (Education Consultant): The students don't like that. Okay, they find it intimidating. They find it insulting because there's a lot of good kids in these schools.

MARUDAS: Greene-Ceisler completed a report last year that highlighted numerous inconsistencies in the school district's disciplinary system. She says teachers would benefit from special training.

Ms. GREENE-CEISLER: There is an interaction that teachers have to learn in terms of managing. You can't embarrass, humiliate or disrespect that child in front of everybody, because they're going to have to stand up for themselves.

MARUDAS: Seated at his kitchen table, Ed Klein says he's bewildered about what happened to him at West Philadelphia High School.

Mr. KLEIN: I'm a teacher for Christ's sakes. It's supposed to be - it's not supposed to be like this.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. KLEIN: There's no doubt that this kid could've killed me.

MARUDAS: For NPR News, I'm Stephanie Marudas in Philadelphia.

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