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A win on five demands- but fight to end school police violence isn’t over

For the past six weeks, students in the Philadelphia Student Union have held weekly vigils at 440, held press conferences, organized student speak-outs about school police violence, written editorials in major newspapers and The Nation magazine, and testified in front of the School Reform Commission, all to call attention to the injustice of a student being assaulted by a school police officer in his own school hallway, for the minor infraction of attempting to go to the bathroom without a hall pass.

On Monday, June 20, 2016, the Philadelphia Student Union met with Dr. William Hite, Superintendent of the School District of Philadelphia, to address the incident on May 5, 2016, where a student was punched, choked, and thrown to the ground by a school police officer in the hallway of Benjamin Franklin High School. In our letter to Dr. Hite, the Philadelphia Student Union presented six demands regarding the assault at Ben Franklin and school police in the District. At the meeting, Dr. Hite told those who were present – members and staff of the Philadelphia Student Union, as well as two clergy from POWER – that he was moving forward on five of the six PSU demands, and committed to implementing them before the first day of the 2016-2017 school year.

Specifically, thanks to continued pressure from the students of Philadelphia, Dr. Hite committed to the following: 1) to publicly condemn unnecessary and physical force against students, especially on school grounds; 2) to reduce the number of uniformed officers in Philadelphia public schools, replacing them with “Climate Managers”, adults who are specifically trained to work in schools; 3) to ensure that there is one full-time nurse and one counselor in every school; 4) to publicly release all School Police Directives, standards, and training protocols on the School District website; and (5) to create a School District-wide complaint system for students and parents to file complaints against security staff in their schools.

This is a major victory in the fight to transform school policing. We hope these changes will be felt not only by students in the Philadelphia School District, but will extend beyond Philadelphia, transforming what policing and discipline look like in schools across the country.

However, this is only a first step, as Dr. Hite refused to meet the Philadelphia Student Union’s first demand: that the School District fire Officer Jeffrey Maciocha. Not only was Officer Maciocha not fired, he was not disciplined in any way for punching, choking, and assaulting a student on school grounds. In fact, after conducting a five-week investigation, the Office of School Safety at the District asserted that Maciocha used an “appropriate amount of force” against Brian.

Although the District’s investigation is over, the complaint Brian’s family filed about Officer Maciocha’s conduct with the Philadelphia Police Department is still pending.

At the Philadelphia Student Union, we are well aware that no matter how horrific the brutality, when police are tasked with investigating their own assault, it never seems to result in a conviction, indictment, or any form of accountability for the violence carried out by officers. From Tamir Rice to Eric Garner to Sandra Bland to Jamar Clark to Mike Brown, what we see in the streets, we also see in our schools.

Firing Maciocha would have sent a very strong message about how the District sees the role of police in schools, and how they value all students. By not disciplining Officer Maciocha, the District has sent a different – but still very strong – message. As far as the Philadelphia Student Union is concerned, this fight isn’t over until we get justice for Brian.

The Philadelphia Student Union is grateful for the support of all our allies, in Philadelphia and across the country, that made this victory possible by standing with us at our actions and writing letters and solidarity statements. We want to extend a special thanks to POWER, who stood with us every step of the way, and to Councilwoman Helen Gym and the five other City Council members who wrote a letter to Dr. Hite in support of our demands.

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