School safety in Philly takes center stage at City Council hearing

Who should be allowed to take a child out of public school? Philadelphia City Council held a hearing today to help fine-tune the answer to that question. 

The hearing follows the Jan. 14 kidnapping of a young girl from the Cullen Bryant Elementary School by a woman wearing Muslim garb to disguise her identity.

A suspect, identified as Christina Regusters, has been arrested and charged with 14 crimes, including rape, kidnapping and assault.

Chief Inspector Cynthia Dorsey, who heads the District Office of School Safety, initially submitted testimony admitting serious security breaches at the school but did not give that testimony during the hearing.

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“We are working with the school district administration to ensure that security measures are updated, that new and more effective measures have been implemented and that staff students and parents understand that safety in school settings is paramount,” she testified Thursday.

Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown says there must be uniform rules for early dismissal of children from a city school.

“The question is what are the lessons learned so that we do not have to have this type of experience again,” she said. “We may have a different experience involving the safety of our children but never again should we have this type of discussion when it comes to the early dismissal of our children.”

The school district has revised its early-dismissal protocol, including a requirement for identification checks with every special release and, in some cases, removal of religious garb.

“We looked at that and it was a very sensitive issue, a religious issue, but in light of safety and in order to identify person, we can ask somebody to lift the niqab,” Dorsey said. “Or the garb anyone is wearing, a hat or glasses, so we can identify that person.”

At the hearing, City Council members suggested a drill to test the new early release measures at every school, to make sure students, teachers and other school staff are aware of the requirements.



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