This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
[Updated, 11:59 p.m.]
Many hundreds of protesters assembled at the District’s headquarters on North Broad Street on Thursday, rallying to spare the city’s public school system from the biggest downsizing in its history.
According to reports, 18 protesters were arrested and escorted away by police. They were removed after an organized attempt to block School Reform Commission members from entering the auditorium to start the proceedings.
Among them was Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers and one of the meeting’s scheduled speakers. As she was being escorted down the hall and out of the building, she was heard to say, "It’s a virtuous fight."
After Weingarten was led away by the police, Jerry Jordan, head of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, said:
"The schools belong to the community, and the community should have a say as to what happens to them. The community’s voices have been ignored by the School Reform Commission, which is why so many people are here today, to say that they do not want their schools closed. So, the protesters were blocking the doors because neither the SRC nor the mayor were willing to listen to the voices of the community. They haven’t listened to the students as well, who’ve given valid reasons for why the schools should not be closed."
The arrested protesters were handcuffed and held for a few hours by District and city police in another room in the building, according to retired teacher (and Notebook blogger) Ron Whitehorne, who was one of the first to be detained. "We sang — it was really spirited," he said.
Those arrested each received a citation for disorderly conduct, a summary offense, and all were released within hours. At 8:15 p.m., Weingarten tweeted that she was out of custody: "Fresh out of custody — we must continue the fight for fixing & ensuring great public schools for all kids — in Philly & US."
Earlier, Weingarten spoke to throngs of protesters outside and led them in a chant of "Fix schools, don’t close them!" Public education, she said, has been the cornerstone of the American dream and the ladder of opportunity, and she criticized the closings plan for being about privatization, not education.
"The kids of this city have suffered from cut after cut," Weingarten said. "Do you want a future where kids suffer and Wall Street does all right?"