Deion Mendez, 13, reeled as the blows landed to his jaw and all over his body, says the Philadelphia Inquirer. I’ve got to get away, he told himself as the youths crowded around him, punching and kicking. He ran to a bus, but his attackers shoved him underneath it. That was Jan. 26 – his last day as a Philadelphia public school student. Deion would stay at home until his mother could find another school where he would be safe. Every day, children like Deion are afraid to go to school. They stay home rather than meet bullies or attackers in school or on their way to school. They show up in truancy court. They and their parents complain at school board meetings. More than a 1,000 a year demand transfers to new schools.
Gun violence and the fear that other students could be packing guns compound the worry. Shootings are up citywide. Philadelphia school officials acknowledge the problem but say they are doing everything they can to keep their 180,000 students safe. That includes working with Philadelphia police to beef up security outside schools and expelling the increasing number of violent and disruptive students to disciplinary schools, which enroll 3,200, up from 900 in 2002. They point to a 14 percent drop in violent-crime incidents to 5,272 this year compared with the same period last year. Total crime incidents and the rate had been rising the last three years. Nationally, 6 percent of 14,000 high school students said they missed at least one day of school in the previous month because they felt unsafe at school or on their way to or from school, said a new survey from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That is up from 5.4 percent in the last survey in 2003. “It’s been a huge problem for years,” said Ronald Stephens of the National School Safety Center in California. “It’s not just the physical injuries, but it’s the emotional stresses that come afterward.”