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King students walk out

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

by Raquel Ronzone

Just days after walkouts of students at West Philadelphia and Audenried, students from Martin Luther King High School walked out this afternoon in protest of a District’s plan that could convert their school into a charter.

At noon, about 70 to 100 students walked out of the school’s main entrance, holding signs that read “Save our school” and chanting “We want King.” They demonstrated on school grounds for a few minutes until District and Philadelphia police told them to move off the property and to the corners across the street.

Students drummed up support in person and through Facebook and Twitter. The Notebook received notice of the demonstration by email on Thursday.

Word of the protest also reached school administration.

“We were encouraged not to do it,” said senior Karen Huskey. “We were told we’d be suspended if we left school.”

But the possibility of disciplinary action did not keep these students in the classroom.

A District statement said, “the District does not approve this type of behavior and will hold students accountable for their misconduct.”

“It’s our future,” said sophomore and student government member Stephanie Henderson. “We should have our own say with what we do with our lives.”

Henderson said she called several television news stations to notify them of the demonstration.

“I hope somebody sees what’s happening and realizes it’s a serious issue.”

More than the changes themselves, a sense that there was no place for of student involvement in the reform plans frustrated the students, Henderson said.

“The change isn’t the problem. The way they’re going about it is.”

It’s a learning point that the District is working to correct, said District spokesperson Shana Kemp, who talked with a small group of students, not including Henderson, about a half hour after the protest.

In the future, students will receive more information from their peers at other Renaissance models across the city and will be connected with opportunities to speak out, Kemp said.

The students continued to question the changes.

“Wait and see how the whole process works out,” Kemp said. “Dr. Ackerman only has your best interests in mind.”

Huskey, who did not speak with Kemp, had a different opinion of Ackerman.

“In order to fix the mistakes she made, she’s turning 18 schools into Renaissance schools.”

With the changes imposed upon students all at once, Ackerman is “setting us up for failure,” Huskey said.

Sophomore Brandon Pendleton said he feared that such changes would mean that programs like JROTC and the Job Resource Development Center funded by the William Penn Foundation, would be cut.

“All of our education will go to waste.”

But his biggest concern was losing the teachers with whom he and other students had built relationships.

“They turned me into the student I am now.”

All teachers at Renaissance Schools are force-transferred and have to reapply for their jobs. If King is managed by a charter, the teachers would no longer be District employees.

As rising juniors, Pendleton and Henderson both said they realized the importance of voicing their concerns.

And if this demonstration doesn’t thwart King’s future as a charter school, Henderson said, the King students have other plans.

“We’re trying to go someplace, and we’re going in circles. The next step is sitting in Superintendent Ackerman’s office.”

Bill Hangley, Jr. was also at King and wrote about the walkout for the Notebook and WHYY/NewsWorks. The piece was published on NewsWorks and includes a photo slideshow.