On February 14th, the school shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School forever changed the Parkland, Florida community, after a gunman claimed the lives of 14 students, and 3 school faculty members.
This unfortunate and pervasive symptom of national neglect for school safety reform has galvanized the nation, igniting students across the country to step into activism that challenges calls for armed police and teachers, and promote solutions that actually improve the environment in schools.
Students at Stoneman Douglas, and other youth groups who had previously committed themselves to organizing for safer schools have called for gun control and implementing programs like restorative justice and other mental and emotional health programs. Yet lawmakers across the country are still choosing to disregard student voices and pass reactive legislation to strengthen police presence and curb opportunities to end gun violence.
At Philadelphia Student Union and Juntos, our members have recognized that this is yet another example of why young people and their allies need to shift the conversation around school safety.
Our youth leaders seek to share in solidarity with the Parkland student mobilization by bringing the conversation home to Philadelphia, taking leadership from our youth to set a vision for making sure our schools, communities, and hearts are centered in restorative relationships. On March 14th, at 11:30am, we will be leading the March for School Safety and inviting all students and allies participating in walkouts to march collectively with us to lift up the following demands:
- Divestment from School Police Officers: An improvement in mental health resources throughout Philadelphia cannot happen without an intentional and accountable effort to divest funding and shift budgeting from School Police officers to other necessary programs that actually promote a nurturing school environment. The expansion of police presence and security personnel/equipment in schools must end, as it only promotes a culture of fear rather than reinforcing the creativity and voice of students.
- Comprehensive Mental and Emotional Health Services: We want all schools in Philadelphia to provide a comprehensive program for mental health services so students can be proactively and consistently supported when dealing with emotional, mental, and social concerns.
- More Guidance Counselors and Social Workers: In order to address the violence affecting our schools, there needs to be a prioritization around hiring more guidance counselors and social workers, who have the training background specifically to support the emotional and mental state of students and to encourage the development of youth.
- Expansion of Restorative Justice Practices: Restorative justice is key in building relationships between students, parents, teachers, school staff and community. It is an alternative to the presence of police and armed teachers that promotes emotional intelligence and communication which are essential skills to be honed for use after graduation. Our schools require an intentional, and systematic effort for restorative justice programs for peer-to-peer and peer-to-teacher/administrator mediation.
- Protection for Students and Families from ICE Arrests Around Schools: Over-policing in our schools only serves to further criminalize young people of color at the expense of learning. Immigration raids across the city have occurred in and around our schools and in homes which instills a constant feeling of fear that impacts young people’s ability to participate in their education. That is why we know ICE and police are two sides of the same coin for our families.Both are detrimental to our dignity and our survival, and we need to end their reach into our lives now.
- Gun Control that Does Not Result in Targeted Policing of Black and Brown Bodies: Enact legislation that restricts the access of assault rifles, or weaponry used in mass killings without thorough screenings and processes for mental and/or emotional, criminal, or social concerns.