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Safety Improves Inside Philadelphia Schools, District Reports

UPDATED

After being labeled for several years as one of the most dangerous school districts in the country, Philadelphia School District has posted its fourth straight year of decline in violent incidents, the district said this week. And no school made the state's persistently dangerous list— a designation under the federal No Child Left Behind Act that's given to schools that have had significant violence for two straight years.

Five years ago, 25 district schools made the persistently dangerous list, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer. Last year, Lincoln High School and Sayre Middle School were among them. Both were absent from this year's list.

The details of the report were released Wednesday by the school district, which said that the total number of violent incidents in the 2013-14 school year dropped by nearly 10 percent to 2,485, from 2,758 the previous school year. The rate of violent incidents per student, however, remained unchanged due to the reduction in the overall student population, the district said.

Despite the reductions, the schools did see a lot of activity, with 1,316 incidents of assaults, down from 1,464 the previous year; 439 incidents involving weapons, down from 507 the previous year; and 312 drug and alcohol-related incidents, up from 310 the previous year.

The Associated Press reports that this is the first year since the category was created in 2001 that no Philadelphia school has appeared on the "persistently dangerous" list.

Plagued by youth violence in the 2010s, the city's government created a Blue Ribbon Commission on School Safety to address the issue, and the district, in the ensuing years, launched efforts to address youth violence, truancy, and out-of-school suspensions. 

The reduction in violent incidents comes as budget constraints have forced the district to reduce the number of adults working in the schools. The Inquirer also noted that the district has a history of underreporting violent incidents, a topic that was the subject of the paper's 2011 "Assault on Learning" series.  

Superintendent William R. Hite said that the district will continue to focus on improving safety in schools.

"More students are making the right choices and our principals, teachers, and school staff members are providing the right supports and guidance," Hite said in a statement. "We are very proud of what our school communities continue to accomplish even with the limited resources they have. We know that our work is not done on this front but, we are delighted to reach this very significant accomplishment. Safety remains a high priority and we will continue working to ensure positive and safe environments in every school."

In other Philadelphia school news, the district announced that it will provide free lunch and breakfast to all students, beginning this fall. That means that students will no longer need to fill out paperwork to receive the meals. 

By offering the meals to everyone, the district hopes to remove the stigma associated with the subsidized meals program. About 80 percent of the city's district and charter students are eligible to receive free and reduced-priced meals based on income qualifications, and the district has provided free breakfasts to students for the last four years. 

"Our goal is to provide as many students as possible with access to healthy, nutritious meals," Hite said. "We want to keep students' focus on learning, not hunger."

In more Philadelphia news, the family of a 12-year-old girl who died from an asthma attack after falling ill at an elementary school last September has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the district, seeking more than $150,000 in damages.

The girl, Laporshia Massey, got sick on Sept. 25, 2013, at Bryant Elementary School, where no nurse was on duty at the time, the Associated Press reported.

The  lawsuit alleges that a school staffer took the child home after she complained about breathing problems, the AP reports. She died later in the day.

The child's death made national headlines as it occurred in a year when the district laid off nearly 3,000 workers and closed nearly two dozen schools to deal with budget cuts.

This post has been updated to include the correct middle initial for Superintendent William R. Hite. 

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