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Teachers, students to rally at District HQ

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

Hope Moffett’s stay in so-called “teacher jail” will be extended til next Wednesday, when she will have a hearing with District officials that could result in a recommendation that she be fired.

But with teachers and students planning to rally at District headquarters this afternoon, Moffett remained adamant that the larger issue is not about the District’s reassignment of her and another teacher out of the classroom and into "solitary confinement" in a basement room in a District administrative office.

"The situation with me is secondary to the issues that are going on at the school where I teach," argued Moffett, an 11th grade English teacher at Audenried High School in South Philadelphia.

Audenried is one of three high schools where students organized walkouts to protest District plans to overhaul their schools as part of the Renaissance Schools initiative.

"To focus on me as a person takes away from the fact that there are still students and community members who object to this change because they haven’t had a say in their own future," Moffett said.

Anissa Weinraub agrees.

Weinraub, 31, is a founder of the teacher-activist organization Teacher Action Group (TAG), which is organizing today’s rally. She argued that both the student walkouts and Moffett’s situation reflect a fundamental problem with how the District is attempting to transform schools.

"Students, teachers, parents, and community members have first-hand knowledge of what our schools really need, and we demand to have a say in decision-making about how they are changed," said Weinraub, who teaches English at a neighborhood high school.

"As we’re expressing our opinions and asking questions of our District, there should not be intimidation or threats against vocal teachers or students," she added.

Weinraub said that TAG is expecting "hundreds" of teachers and students to attend the rally, which is being fully supported by the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT).

PFT president Jerry Jordan has repeatedly warned the District against attempts to “silence” teachers who ask questions and has threatened a "strong reaction" if the charges against Moffett are deemed to have been an act of intimidation.

Teachers, students, and parents from Audenried, Martin Luther King, and West Philadelphia – the three high schools where students have organized walkouts to protest the District’s Renaissance plans for their schools – are slated to speak at the rally.

Eleventh grader Ava Reeves said many students at Audenried share her anger at the District’s inability to provide sound data to justify their decision to target Audenried for conversion into a charter. She also expressed outrage at the District’s insinuation that teachers were behind the recent student walkout there.

"We are human beings, and we can think for ourselves," Reeves said.

"We walked out because our voices weren’t being heard."

As for Moffett, she said she has been given no guidance on how to spend her time during her reassignment, so she has mostly been keeping in touch with those who are interested in her situation.

"People are stopping me and saying they are really glad that someone spoke up," Moffett said.

"Obviously, the issue is not about me as a person, but the larger issues that TAG is highlighting that really affect everybody in the District."

Despite the looming possibility of losing her job, Moffett said she has no regrets about her decision to make a public stand.

"I care very deeply about the students I teach," she said.

"My choice has consequences that I’m willing to accept because I think that in the end, these students are worth it."

Listen to Benjamin Herold’s report for WHYY.