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District: We have more info on Moffett

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

School District officials say they have additional information supporting their recommendation that exiled Audenried High English teacher Hope Moffett be fired, but because that information has come from sources who wish to remain anonymous, they have not yet shared it with her or her union representatives.

“There have been several teachers, parents, and community leaders that have come to us" with concerns about Moffett, said District spokesperson Jamilah Fraser during a Tuesday press briefing. “They would rather remain anonymous and [therefore] we cannot provide that [information] to Ms. Moffett in her documentation.”

Philadelphia Federation of Teachers President Jerry Jordan said he was in “total disbelief” upon learning that District officials – including Assistant Superintendent Penny Nixon, who will be overseeing the next stage of Moffett’s disciplinary process – revealed to the media during a press briefing Tuesday afternoon that they were withholding additional information.

“I have never known such dishonesty,” said Jordan. “I’ve never heard of any other such instance in all my time in the District. It’s clearly another indication that this is a District setup to intimidate [Moffett] and every teacher.”

During a series of “204” hearings earlier this week, District officials formally recommended that Moffett be terminated for “endangering the safety and welfare of children” and violating a gag order. As part of that recommendation, the District presented Moffett with a “204 form” containing a written summary of the case against her.

At that point, said Jordan, the District must put all its cards on the table.

“All of the information has to be presented. That’s the purpose of the conference, to give the person the opportunity to prepare for a response,” said Jordan.

But that document, obtained by the Notebook, cites only Moffett’s comments in various media outlets as evidence that she “endangered the safety and welfare of children,” the most serious charge against her.

Asked why the additional information wasn’t provided to Moffett in the 204 form, Fraser cited the District’s need to protect the confidentiality of its sources.

“These individuals have asked for their names not to be presented to the public,” said Fraser.

“But I can assure you that in order to remove a teacher, we had adequate information. We knew that the teacher in question had endangered the lives of students.”

During the press briefing, Assistant Superintendent Penny Nixon also reiterated the District’s stance that Moffett’s outspoken opposition to the District’s Renaissance Schools plans for Audenried have nothing to do with the recommendation that she be fired.

“This is not about Ms. Moffett’s teaching performance [or] views on the Renaissance process,” said Nixon. “It is only about that on the day in question, Ms. Moffett provided tokens to students to leave school grounds without parental permission. Those actions placed the safety of those students in jeopardy.”

During the briefing, Nixon also disputed an earlier Notebook report that Moffett’s 106 students – about 80 percent of the 11th graders at Audenried – have had three and in some cases four substitute teachers since her reassignment.

“There has been one teacher in the building. It has been a certified high school English teacher who has been covering the class for the duration,” said Nixon.

A District spokesperson later identified the substitute teacher as Daniel Eppihimer, a former full-time English teacher and teacher leader at Audenried.

Reached for comment, Eppihimer described Nixon’s statements as “not accurate.”

“In the 11 [school] days since [Moffett’s] reassignment, I’ve been inside subbing her classes for five days,” said Eppihimer.

Eppihimer, a musician, said he cannot be in the class more consistently because of regular touring dates and is preparing to take another extended leave this week – meaning another sub for the students.

“[Thursday] is my last day in the classroom until the end of March,” said Eppihimer. “I can’t be there in a consistent manner due to scheduling conflicts.”

Other sources at the school also confirmed that students have had three and in some cases four substitutes since Moffett’s reassignment.

“It’s a case of a teacher being pulled from her students and us trying to patch up the holes,” said one staff member, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of retribution.

“But students are still going to class and preparing themselves for the [state PSSA exam] because they legitimately care about their performance and their future.”

Next week, Audenried’s 11th graders will take the PSSA for the first time since the school was reopened in 2008.

Moffett and others have contended that absent those student test scores, the District was not justified in designating Audenried for conversion to charter by Universal Companies as part of the Renaissance Schools initiative.

During Tuesday’s press briefing, Associate Superintendent David Weiner explained why the District considers it a low-performing school.

“As we did with all of our [Renaissance] schools, we looked at a full decade worth of data,” said Weiner. “Unfortunately, when we looked at Audenried, it really showed us that this school has not made the kind of improvements we needed [it] to make.”

Weiner cited both PSSA results from the old Audenried, which was eventually razed in 2005, and predictive test results from the current school.

In 2003, he said, only 2 to 3 percent of Audenried students scored proficient on the PSSA.

“In the predictive assessments that students took just a month ago, they have improved. But they now have about three out of every ten kids performing proficient in reading in math. We’re happy that they’ve made that improvement, but that is in no way acceptable for the type of education we expect for all of our students,” said Weiner.

Weiner also cited Audenried’s attendance rate last year, as well as the unemployment and literacy rates in the surrounding community, as data that was used to identify Audenried as a Renaissance School.

A meeting for students, parents, and community members to learn more about Universal’s plans for Audenried has been scheduled for this Saturday at 1 p.m. at the school.

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