This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
[Updated 7:55 p.m.]
A group of about 20 opponents of the School District’s closings plan staged a four-hour sit-in outside the mayor’s office on the second floor of City Hall this afternoon, after a meeting with Mayor Nutter. The protesters were escorted out of the building at about 7:40 p.m. after police ordered the hallway cleared. There were no arrests.
The protest included members of Action United, the NAACP, Parents United for Public Education, and PCAPS (Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools). A larger crowd protesting in opposition to the closings gathered outside City Hall.
The groups are criticizing the mayor’s support for the District’s plan to close 29 schools. Action United set up a livestream of the sit-in.
City police blocked off the corridor where the protest was taking place. Craig Robbins, director of Action United, who was part of the sit-in, was reached by phone. He reported that a group met with the mayor at 2:15 p.m, including these groups and two members of a clergy coalition, and laid out the argument for a one-year moratorium on school closings. "We also asked him to be more aggressive in fighting for more funding for the schools," Robbins said.
According to Robbins, "We didn’t get very far. … The mayor said parents are voting with their feet and leaving schools, and this is what we have to do."
Robbins said that after the 45-minute meeting, the group left the office, met with supporters, and the sit-in began.
Afterwards, Robbins said he thought that while the mayor didn’t budge, the protest had succeeded in making its point: "Mayor Nutter is the most powerful person in Philadelphia on this issue. And his leadership for schools is absent."
Mayoral spokesman Mark McDonald said during the sit-in that the mayor "is conducting his business" and the protest is not interfering with that. He reiterated the mayor’s support for the closings. "His view is that the superintendent went through a very complicated issue in a very thorough and methodical way and listened to the community … and revised his plan. The mayor is fully supportive of that proposal."
Update: At 6:15 p.m., the protesters said they had been warned by police that they would have to leave City Hall or they would be removed. They said they are not planning to leave of their own accord. As of 7:30 p.m., the demonstrators – now numbering about 15 – were still in place. Protesters said that media have been denied access to the corridor where they are camped out. One TV crew did gain access to the protest.
Among those participating in the sit-in were J. Whyatt Mondesire, president of the Philadelphia NAACP, and Parents United co-founder Helen Gym (disclosure: Gym is a member of the Notebook’s leadership board).