School District bringing on activist who criticized school cops as advisor

The School District says it will review the use of school police with help from an activist and parent who complained about a school cop's use of force on his son.
Outside the School District Tuesday are, from left, Philadelphia Student Union Executive Director Julien Terrell, with parents Lauren and Isaac Gardner Sr., who say their son was unfairly treated by school police. (Sam Newhouse)

One of the School District of Philadelphia's last acts of 2017 was to acknowledge the complaints made against it that a school police officer inappropriately dragged a local activist's 9-year-old son out of a classroom and locked him in a bathroom to berate him.

 

And now, that same activist will participate in a review of the practices of school police officers.

 

Isaac Gardner Sr., known as activist Ikey Raw, founder of Justice 4 David Jones, said his son was mistreated by a school police officer during an October incident. He had called for the school police officer involved to be prosecuted last month at a rally with the Philly Students Union outside School District headquarters on Broad Street.

 

"The Philadelphia School District showed no concern until the rally on Dec 12," Gardner told Metro. "I had to attend the SRC [School Reform Commission] meeting on Dec 14."

 

After that meeting, Gardner spoke with superintendent Dr. William Hite about how the district handled the incident.

On Oct. 20, Gardner's son, Isaac Gardner Jr., 9, was reportedly upset due to a classroom disagreement and refused to get up from a chair and leave his art classroom at Solis-Cohen Elementary School in Oxford Circle.

A school police officer, who reportedly said he was coincidentally walking by and overheard the teacher calling the principal, entered the classroom and allegedly pulled him out of the classroom, then entered an adult bathroom with him, locked the door and berated the student for a few minutes.

Hite had previously in 2014 ordered school police to desist from responding to level 1 offenses like truancy, failure to follow classroom rules and verbal altercations. 

"We as a team did not handle a minor classroom incident at Solis-Cohen Elementary School correctly," School District spokesman Lee Whack said in a Dec. 28 statement on the incident. "School police are in place for the sole purpose of ensuring the safety and security of the entire school community. Officers are not to be utilized for classroom management purposes under any circumstances, and individuals at the school did not meet the District's expectations on October 20."

Whack declined to comment further on the specifics of the incident, calling it a "personnel matter."

Gardner had also complained that school officials never notified his family of the new specific complaint form for allegations of school police misconduct, which he learned about only when meeting with the Education Law Center.

"The whole system needs an overhaul," he said.

That type of change might be possible. The District is planning a full review of school police conduct in the wake of this incident, and have invited Gardner to assist with the process.

"We appreciate that Mr. Gardner brought his valid concerns to our attention," Whack said. "We are glad that he has agreed to work with a team of administrators in reviewing the role of School Police in our schools and the ways of communicating this role to families, students, staff and the community."

 
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