Students call on district to abolish school police force

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — As the argument over defunding police goes on, student activists are calling on the School District of Philadelphia to abolish its school police department. 

Students say the presence of officers in school buildings makes them feel like criminals. At a public hearing Thursday, students demanded that the $29 million budgeted for school police be diverted to counselors and other support for students.

Masterman High School senior Alison Fortenberry told the school board how a school police officer once humiliated her. The officer thought Fortenberry had an e-cigarette in her backpack, though it was actually a USB charger.

“I understand she may have thought I was bringing in something I wasn't supposed to have, but she never asked me. There was no assumption of innocence. Our school police officers don't look at us like students, they look at us like criminals,” Fortenberry said.

“They do not serve and protect us,” she continued. “They humiliate and criminalize us. We don't need more law-and-order influences in our schools when we're already being treated like criminals by the rest of the world.”

Earlier that day, Superintendent William Hite told reporters that reforms — under new Security Chief Kevin Bethel — are already underway. Efforts would retrain the district's unarmed officers, and even change their titles from “school police” to “school security officers.”

“I agree with the young people,” said Hite. “They want to see more adults in schools who are helping them, as opposed to more adults in schools who are managing and policing them.”

Students found a sympathetic ear from board member Julia Danzy.

“Too many of our students when they enter the buildings, they're met with high expectations that they are dangerous. And then when they enter the classroom, they're met with low expectations that they are able to achieve,” she said.

Next week, the board is also expected to modify its metal detector policy to make it more welcoming for students.