'Street-Level Conversations' is a discussion-based civic-engagement project in Northwest Philly. It combines facts and personal stories dealing with the issues most pertinent in our communities and seeks to inspire solutions. SLC aims to empower every member of the community to believe in the validity of their voice and the vital role they play in sharing it.

The idea that "every student deserves the opportunity to reach his/her full academic potential in a safe, productive classroom," as stated on the School District of Philadelphia's (PSD) website, reflects the goal of schools throughout the nation.

On Monday, the first day back to school since 20 children and six educators were slaughtered at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Ct., SLC asked Northwest Philadelphia parents their perspective on the current state of school-safety efforts here.

More security needed

At most schools, visitors must ring a bell and identify themselves as they are viewed via surveillance cameras.

However, some parents say that buzz-in, sign-in practice is not enough. That includes Angela Guiton of Germantown who wants more security in schools since she thinks anyone can gain entry if they want to.

"The school ... pretty much has good safety, but I'm still worried," said Guiton.

Many schools have security protocols in place like metal detectors, lockdown drills and security personnel.

Brian Lugget, of West Philadelphia, said his child's school does offer a safe learning environment for students, especially because of the school's security officer.

"My daughter is around the corner right now, they've got an armed guard at the desk," he said. "I think she's safe right now."

Like Guiton, Marian Cromer of Roxborough would like to see increased security. She proposed parents volunteer their time to monitor the schools.

Newtown on their minds

Debbie Lipshutz of Germantown said her daughter's school asked students to wear blue Monday in honor of the victims.

"There's a certain awareness of children being hurt that affected her," said Lipshutz, noting that the tragedy speaks to the need for accessible mental-health services.

She said she hopes to hear more discussion about getting help for people with mental illnesses.

Richard Hartwell, of East Falls, noted that he doesn't think increased gun laws will necessarily prevent future tragedies.

"We already have a lot on the books, but they're not being enforced," he said. "We're always going to have people doing this. That's the price that we pay for living in an open society."

A look inside: What is the state of safety in the PSD?

There is still much concern that school districts don't have the resources to improve security.

With the PSD facing a financial hole and the recent announcement to close 37 schools, is there room to heighten security?

Some schools currently have trained police officers on staff. "Supplemental school security and support" is also available for schools with "high rates of violent incidents."

Overall, the "School Police Support Services Unit" is "responsible for monitoring ... all schools." School alarms, closed-circuit TV systems and "mobile metal detector operations" bolster those efforts, along with unannounced screenings of all students at a principal's request.

In the event of an emergency, students and staff follow "Universal Emergency Response Procedures," which are described as "standard, clear directives that may be implemented across a variety of incidents/events." Responses include "duck, cover and hold," evacuation, lockdown, severe weather safe area and shelter in place.


Video by Kimberly Paynter