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'They're Just Hurting Kids': Philadelphia Shutters 23 Public Schools

AFT President: "This is not about how to fix public schools, but to close them."

Lauren McCauley, staff writer

Students and staff from University City High School reacted after learning their school would close at the end of the year. (Photo: Tom Gralish/Associated Press)

Philadelphia is going to shutter 23 public schools following a vote Thursday night by the School Reform Commission, despite an emotional protest and numerous arrests, exemplifying the city's continued embrace of privatized school reform at the mercy of the public school system.

Critics of the closures point to the disproportionate number of minority children impacted, arguing that the move would further discourage students from enrolling in public schools, fueling a growing push towards corporate run charter schools.

"A vote to close schools tonight is just uninformed and immoral," said the Rev.  Alyn Waller, senior pastor with the Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church in East Mount Airy.

"I think they shot them down as if they were in a firing line," said Colleen Grelis, a teacher at George W. Pepper Middle School, which was one of the school selected to close. "No one on the SRC has come to Pepper to see what we had. It's going to be chaos. They're just hurting kids."

"This was really a plan to eliminate public education," said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. "This is not about how to fix public schools, but to close them—not how to stabilize but to destabilize public schooling."

She added the school closure plan siphons money away from public schools, since the plan doesn't touch the city's charter schools.

Weingarten, along with eighteen other protestors, was arrested outside the meeting for linking arms and barricading the Commission's access to the vote.

Teachers, public-school advocates, parents, students and district workers packed the standing-room only meeting room where much crying and emotion followed the naming of the condemned schools. 

"This is not about how to fix public schools, but to close them—not how to stabilize but to destabilize public schooling."

Many felt that the decision to close particular schools "seemed arbitrary," and that the SRC wasn't basing their decision on any data, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.

"Kids have suffered cut after cut," Weingarten announced before her arrest to the hundreds gathered in protest at the district headquarters. "The powers that be don't care about opportunity for children."

Of the 29 total schools selected for the chopping block by Philadelphia School Superintendent William Hite, the SRC elected to keep just four open, including T.M. Peirce Elementary in North Philadelphia, Roosevelt Middle in East Germantown, Taylor Elementary in Hunting Park and Paul Robeson High in West Philadelphia.

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, J. Whyatt Mondesire, president of the Philadelphia branch of the NAACP, said his group would consider legal action against the school district for unfairly targeting minority schools.


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