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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

PBS interview: Pulitzer: Rampant School Violence Covered Up in Philadelphia

PBS News Hour Transcript (April 16, 2012) opening excerpt:


JEFFREY BROWN: Finally tonight, the 2011 Pulitzer Prizes were announced this afternoon.
. . .
Among the journalism awards: David Wood of The Huffington Post won for national reporting. He chronicled the struggles of wounded war veterans when they return home. And the Public Service Award went to a team at The Philadelphia Inquirer that investigated pervasive violence in the city's schools.

And we're joined by one of the members of that team of reporters, Kristen Graham.

Kristen, first, congratulations.

KRISTEN GRAHAM, The Philadelphia Inquirer: Thank you very much.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, set the scene a little bit for us. How did you and your colleagues first get on to this story?

KRISTEN GRAHAM: Well, we decided to do the story after an incident at a Philadelphia high school in December of 2009 when a group of Asian immigrant students were severely beaten. It was a racially motivated beating.

And the school district response really was very lukewarm at first. And advocates throughout the city were sort of saying, how could this happen? And we decided that we were going to devote resources into looking into a pervasive culture of violence in the Philadelphia School District.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, when you say pervasive culture of violence, tell us a little bit about that means. What kind of violence are we talking about, what ages of the students? What were you seeing?

KRISTEN GRAHAM: Well, in some cases, students as young as elementary school, even kindergartners, were both victims of violence and committing violent acts.

We really saw a lot of violence at the high school level. In one particularly disturbing case, there was a group of students who went basically from room to rooms looking for their victim. And this happened in plain sight. Teachers, principals all allowed it to happen. We also found widespread under-reporting throughout the system.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, that, I gather, was an important piece of this, the unreported element of it. Why was that going on? I mean, was this about keeping the numbers down, or what did you find?

KRISTEN GRAHAM: In many cases, it was about keeping the numbers down.

There's really a disincentive. When we did the series, it was up to school officials to report their own violence. And, obviously, it didn't reflect well on them if they showed violence. And so we found that many officials were just not reporting incidents, that the district simply never found out about it. No one was ever punished.

So it was really quite an issue in many schools.

JEFFREY BROWN: And that includes the teachers not reporting anything in some cases. . .

KRISTEN GRAHAM: It was the responsibility of the administrators to report the violence. And now, since the series, that's changed. It's up to school police to report.

JEFFREY BROWN: So then the question became, I'm sure, for your readers whether authorities at all levels were doing enough to stop the violence.

KRISTEN GRAHAM: Absolutely. Absolutely.

And we heard from many readers and, you know, certainly most poignantly from victims of violence that they felt enough wasn't being done. There's a new administration in the School District of Philadelphia. And they've taken a more serious approach to school violence. They have come out with some different regulations. And so they say they're taking it more seriously than their predecessors.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, that -- I noted the Pulitzer citation said that your team's reporting -- quote -- "brought reform and improved safety for students and teachers."

So, tell us a little bit about how that happens. You do a series. It sparks debate and controversy in the city. And what happens? What happened in your case?

KRISTEN GRAHAM: Well, in our case, shortly after -- a few months after the series came out, there was a new administration in Philadelphia. And so the new school reform commission -- they're the governing body of the School District of Philadelphia -- came in and put in some reforms.

The district had put in reforms after the series came out as well, so it was really kind of in parts. It didn't happen immediately, but it's happened incrementally. And we hear anecdotally that things are improving.

Read complete interview with Kristen Graham of the Philadelphia Inquirer:

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