As Philadelphia grapples with a gun violence crisis and a recent surge of shootings near schools, local leaders made a joint public appearance Monday and stood with students and educators to say school safety must be one of the city’s highest priorities.

Schools “need to be havens,” said District Attorney Larry Krasner. “They need to be sanctuaries.”

Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw echoed Krasner’s views.

“A child or parent should never have to worry about being deliberately harmed while in school,” said Outlaw.

Krasner and Outlaw are of course right; children should feel safe going to and from school. But instead of being “sanctuaries,” school grounds have not been spared the gun violence epidemic in the city.

Citywide, there have been 458 homicides through Oct. 29, up from 414 during the same period in 2020.

Shooters don’t mind or care that they are putting children in danger of injury or even death when they start shooting.

“I don’t feel safe coming out of school,” said Herman Andino, eighth grader at Mary McLeod Bethune School.

Andino’s feelings of being unsafe are sad and understandable.

Just in the last month, a 13-year-old was killed on the way to school at E.W. Rhodes Elementary and a 16-year-old was seriously injured along with a 66-year-old killed in a shooting outside Lincoln High School.

It was encouraging to see a group of leaders join together to acknowledge and address the serious problem of shootings near schools. Krasner, Outlaw, Mayor Jim Kenney and Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. attended the press event in the library of Mary McLeod Bethune School in North Philadelphia. The leaders, particularly the district attorney and police officials, have aired disagreements about how to solve the gun violence epidemic.

It was encouraging to hear city police announce the increased presence and patrols in 25 zones touching 38 schools around the city.

The school district will also begin a “Safe Path” program, stationing community volunteers outside of some schools. The program will begin at Motivation, Lincoln Roxborough and Sayre high schools by the end of the school year.

More community volunteers outside of schools could help. Violence at a Louisiana high school has stopped since a group of fathers started patrolling the campus.

“Dads on Duty” started in response to a series of fights at Shreveport’s Southwood High School in September that led to the arrests of about two dozen students, The Shreveport Times reported

In addition to more police patrols and community volunteers, schools should also do more to teach conflict resolution so that arguments don’t become deadly.

Two physicians from the University of Pennsylvania said that society must also consider the ways that gun violence is affecting children. When we consider how gun violence affects children, we must think not only about shooting victims and their families, but also about the many children who grow up listening to gunshots at night, bearing witness to neighborhood violence and seeing newly empty seats in their classrooms.

“As physicians, we know that trauma and adverse childhood experiences, including exposure to violence, have long-term negative effects on children’s mental health. Children exposed to trauma have higher rates of anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. They are also more likely to be withdrawn, irritable and display disruptive behaviors in school in the following years,” says Dr. Aditi Vasan, an associate fellow at the Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics (LDI) at the University of Pennsylvania and a pediatrician and researcher at PolicyLab at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and Eugenia South, a senior fellow at LDI, an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania and faculty director for the Urban Health Lab, in an Op-Ed article Monday in the Washington Post.

The physician recommends: “Reducing neighborhood gun violence must therefore be a priority for health-care providers, health systems, policymakers and others broadly working toward health equity. This should include evidence-based public health interventions, such as safe storage and background check laws, vacant lot greening, and violence prevention programs. There is also a pressing need for local governments to allocate additional funding to community-based mental health services for children and families.”

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