Philadelphia Schools Review Weapons Policy for Younger Students

Wanting to avoid a repeat of last week's incident in which a 10-year-old girl who brought scissors to school was handcuffed and arrested, Philadelphia schools chief Paul Vallas yesterday said school officials would refine the way they deal with weapons incidents at elementary schools.

"We need to update the protocol," Vallas said during a news conference after yesterday's School Reform Commission meeting.

He said that in elementary-school cases involving weapons confiscated in nonthreatening situations, the principal should call school security, which in turn would notify city police. City police would not be dispatched to the school to arrest the child, he said.

"That will keep us in compliance with the law," he said.

His comments follow last Thursday's arrest of fourth grader Porsche Brown at Holme Elementary School in the Far Northeast after an 8-inch pair of scissors was found in her book bag. Police were called, and Porsche was handcuffed and transported to the Eighth Police District in the back of a police wagon. Although she was not using the scissors as a weapon or threatening anyone, scissors are considered a potential weapon under school policy and state law.

Vallas and Police Commissioner Sylvester M. Johnson apologized earlier this week for the girl's arrest. Police chose not to charge the girl, who was permitted to return to school after serving a two-day suspension.

The Police Department has also said it plans to review procedures for the restraint and arrest of youngsters.

The School District of Philadelphia reported yesterday that calls to its safety hotline have doubled since a new partnership with police was announced last week. Under the new guidelines, information gathered from calls to the hotline - 215-299-SAFE - is directed to a new police department unit for investigation.

The district had been receiving about a dozen calls a day on the line before the partnership was announced. Now it gets about 20 a day, school officials said.

Vallas was pleased with the upswing.

"We're going to be responsive," he said.