Philly activist's son was locked in bathroom by school cop, family says

Father and student activists criticize school police officer who locked up 8-year-old for alleged art class disruption.
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)

The Philadelphia School District was criticized Tuesday by the family of a student who claims he was unfairly locked in a bathroom by a school police officer.

 

The parents of Isaac Gardner Jr., 9, said a school police officer locked him in a bathroom after an incident in art class at Solis-Cohen Elementary School in Oxford Circle.

 

The student, who was 8 when the Oct. 20 incident occurred, alleged that a school police officer forcefully removed him from his art classroom and temporarily locked him in an adult bathroom while berating him.

 

The boy’s father, Isaac Gardner Sr., a Philly activist who founded the group "Justice 4 David Jones" after Jones was fatally shot by police in a controversial shooting, said the incident has been a "nightmare for our family."

 

"Why is a grown man taking an 8-year-old boy in an adult bathroom?" Gardner asked at a news conference outside School District headquarters organized by the Philadelphia Student Union (PSU). "I want the officer charged and the art teacher disciplined."

School Police Officer Joe O’Malley allegedly locked Gardner's son in a bathroom for a few minutes while berating the boy after the principal was called due to a classroom issue.

As Gardner tells it, his son was told to sit in the back after arguing with another child. The other student said, “Stop saying, ‘Oh my god,’ or you’ll die," to which his son began angrily replying, "No I won't."

At the end of class, Isaac refused to leave the classroom due to being upset, his father said. That's when the teacher called the principal, after which the officer allegedly showed up, dragged the child out and locked him in the bathroom for two minutes while allegedly shouting at him. 

The School District said the incident is under investigation.

"The officer was immediately removed from the school when this was reported and will not be in a school until the investigation is complete," School District spokesman Lee Whack said in an email. "Any time we get a report like this, we treat it very seriously because the safety of our students is always our top priority."

In 2014, the District instructed school police to not respond to level 1 offenses like truancy, failure to follow classroom rules and verbal altercations. Gardner is skeptical of the school's claim that this officer responded because he coincidentally overheard the call to the principal while walking by.

The report was investigated by the Department of Human Services and determined to be "unfounded." But Metro viewed handwritten statements from Gardner's son and daughter, 10, both describing Isaac being dragged out and locked up.

The Gardner family also said they were never directed by school staff to use the specific complaint form for school police, which the district rolled out this summer, and only learned about it from the Education Law Center.

“There is no reason for a school police officer to be involved in disciplinary issues in an elementary school,” PSU Executive Director Julien Terrell said in a statement. “The lack of oversight and clear guidance on the role of SPOs [school police officers] from the School District and its superintendent is to blame.”

The School District asked any parent, student or community member who believes they have been the victim of excessive force to file a complaint by calling 215-400-4830 or visiting PhilaSD.org.

 
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