Addressing School Safety

As you heard earlier this week, one of the tough topics still in front of us in bargaining is the issue of school safety.

As educators, we want our schools to be a place where students can make mistakes and be welcomed back into their classroom communities. But we know that interventions are needed for this to work, and many students will require ongoing support.

Educators also need to be involved in the process, whether its developing and implementing school climate plans, or being able to track what happens to referrals we write.

Unfortunately, the District has been all over the map in terms of responding to the serious safety concerns in our schools, and has backtracked on whatever forward progress we made in past two years.

Last week’s announcement that PPS is closing the middle and high school Pioneer program has District-wide implications for school safety and special education. 

PAT is hard at work assessing what this closure will mean for our members, as well as what it means for our current contract negotiations. 

However, one thing is clear: This move flies in the face of many of our union’s long-standing principles.

First, our new Superintendent is repeating the mistakes of his predecessors, making important decisions behind closed doors, based on little on-the-ground information, and without any engagement of frontline educators, parents, or the community.

Closing the Pioneer program also raises serious financial concerns, which the Superintendent and the School Board need to address, since there is no question providing comparable services to students displaced from the Pioneer program will be far more expensive.

This comes at a time when special education services have already been shortchanged across the District, and the problems this has created are rippling across entire buildings. Closing the Pioneer program will only exacerbate this situation.

Finally and most importantly, we believe PPS must provide the federally-mandated full continuum of services for all students. For years we’ve been pushing PPS to restore services in the middle of the continuum, such as behavior classrooms, so students can be placed in the least restrictive environment possible.

But now the District is proposing to eliminate services on the higher end of the continuum, which will no doubt leave many students in more restrictive environments, and others in unsupported placements. As we’ve always argued, the IEP team should base their recommendations on what a student needs, not just what placements are available.

The District needs to live up to this obligation to our most vulnerable students.

In Solidarity,

Suzanne Cohen
PAT President