This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
More than 1,000 teachers, students, parents, and community members rallied outside District headquarters Monday, calling for an end to the conversion of public schools to charters, a reversal of education budget cuts, and no more teacher intimidation.
“We are here also because we want to urge, very strongly urge, the School Reform Commission to say ‘no’ to converting our schools to charter schools,” said Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, which organized the rally.
He said that the District used “faulty data” in determining which schools should be converted to charters under Superintendent Arlene Ackerman’s Renaissance Schools initiative. He also said that there was not enough community input in the decision-making process.
“We are urging the SRC to vote no on converting Martin Luther King High School to a charter school. Spend the $2,376,000 in the grant on the children at King,” said Jordan, referring to the amount of federal School Improvement Grant money to support school turnarounds earmarked for King . “Why should they turn that over to the charter schools?”
Jordan listed the other seven District schools besides King slated to become charters, calling for the turnaround funds to go directly to all of them, rather than to charter operators.
In the crowd, students held signs asserting their free speech rights. Some teachers held signs saying “Philly’s kids deserve Hope,” a reference to Audenried English teacher Hope Moffett, who was suspended from the classroom and recommended for termination for “endangering student safety.” The District says they are acting because she gave students tokens to leave school for a rally against turning their school into a charter. Her fast-track firing was delayed after the PFT went to federal court to prevent her ouster, saying it was due to her outspokenness and an effort to intimidate all District teachers.
Hanako Franz, a student teacher and member of Teacher Action Group (TAG), said that TAG and PFT are planning an event to coincide with Wednesday’s SRC meeting. “[Community members] need to have input on who is taking over their schools,” Franz said. “They didn’t even have any choice about whether their schools are being taken over, so at the very least they should have a role in that.”
Franz said she was also there to support teachers’ union rights, which are at risk with charter takeovers. “We see that happening all over the country where collective bargaining is being taken away from people, so I feel like if the union disappears, then our rights as teachers are going to decrease dramatically even more,” said Franz. She declined to say which school she works at, for fear of retribution, another rallying point for the crowd.
“No more teacher intimidation!” said a sign held by Kensington CAPA students, including Cecilio Rodriguez.
“I’m here to support all of the staff of Kensington CAPA,” Rodriguez said. “I don’t think it’s fair for a public school to turn into a charter school or a Renaissance school.”
His classmate, 14 year-old Evelize Soto, said, “We’re all against what Ackerman’s doing. If she’s going to make things harder for people in high school, then there are going to be more dropouts.“
The boisterous crowd took over most of a city block on Broad Street in front of the District headquarters. Mostly clad in PFT’s red, they flew flags, carried banners, sang union songs, and chanted “Just say no” to charter takeovers and deep education budget cuts. Police officers lined the outside of the building, observing the crowd.
“They have all these cops lined up like we’re common criminals,” said Eileen DiFranco, a nurse at Roxborough High School. She distributed masks for rally-goers to wear to symbolize “when people are prevented from exercising their free speech rights,” another reference to teacher intimidation and Moffett’s case.
The efforts will not stop here, according to the PFT president.
Jordan said, “We will have to go to Harrisburg, all of us, to continue this fight!”