Philadelphia public school parents and workers launched a hunger strike today to protest city plans to gut the public school system by shuttering 23 schools and canning nearly 4,000 school workers.
The mass firings, which were announced June 7, include the elimination of 1,200 aids tasked with responsibilities that include ensuring school safety and serving food to students. Schools on the 'Persistently Dangerous Schools' list are included in the number that will lose safety staff.
The group of four will fast until the district reinstates those 1,200 safety workers, who are represented by Unite Here Local 634, insisting that this is a fast for student safety.
They will go hungry at the doorstep of Governor Tom Corbett's office until city and state authorities come up with the resources and will to save Philadelphia's public schools.
Unite Here's website reports that hunger strikers hope to reverse the cuts whose burden will be borne by students placed in harm's way:
“I am fasting for the children,” said faster Patricia Norris, a food service worker at Cayuga Elementary. “When the children won’t go to the principal, when they won’t go to their teacher, they go to the student safety staff. They give them love and knowledge. Without them, school would be a disaster waiting to happen.”
The mass closures and layoffs are decried by students, parents, teachers, and workers who declare it will lead to a human rights nightmare that disproportionately affects the poor people and people of color who use these public services. The Philadelphia Enquirer reports:
In six of the eight schools that either closed or began the closing process in June, at least 13 percent more African American students are enrolled than the district average, the group says. It says the white population is at least 11 percent below the district average at seven of the eight schools.
Citing budget shortfalls, the closures are part of sweeping plans to privatize the city's school system through increased funding for charter schools. These private endeavors, funded by public dollars, have been assailed by critics for using students to turn a profit, deepening racial and economic disparities, forcing youth to travel far from their homes just to get an education (often across gang lines), and imposing unfair contracts on school workers.
Despite the city's claims that it is too poor to protect public education, it is moving forward with plans to build a $400 million prison.
Philadelphia has seen massive protests and walkouts against the closures among the city's students, workers, parents, and anti-mass incarceration activists.