Response to School District of Philadelphia's "Comprehensive School Planning Review"

This week, the School District announced a plan to study building use and demographic changes in Philadelphia.

While we recognize that studies like these are necessary to guide increased investment in our schools and prevent overcrowding of our classrooms, we want to ensure that the school district centers the communities of color -who make up the majority of Philadelphia residents and students- as they move forward with this decision-making process. 

These studies will provide data that will be used to make decisions that will impact Philly’s students, educators, and families for decades to come. If our goal is truly to create vibrant public schools that support all students in our city to learn and grow, the true stakeholders in every school community must have power in this process.

In order to guide the district's "Comprehensive School Planning Review", we propose the following principles:

1. The entire community impacted by these decisions must be included in this process.

This means including parents, students, school staff, PFT members and members from other school unions.  Also, there must be input from these stakeholders at EVERY school being studied, especially schools with a high percentage of students of color. Meeting time and locations must be conducive to working people who don’t have flexible schedules. Translators must be available to assist with this process and written materials should be available in the multiple languages spoken within our communities.

2. We must center racial justice in this decision-making.

The majority of Philadelphia’s students are children of color. Historically, school feeder patterns have served to segregate schools, gentrifying some neighborhoods while disinvesting in others. Schools in Philadelphia are becoming more segregated with each passing year, and Philadelphia is ranked one of the most segregated big cities in the country. The School District must stop creating segregated schools, both public and charter, and invest in systems that will ensure every school is a diverse and welcoming community for all students and their families.

3. No communities should be forced to lose their local school.

In 2013, the District closed 23 schools, causing harm to many local neighborhoods. The buildings, which were sold under market value or in many cases still sit vacant, have become symbols of the city’s disinterest in serving communities of color.

Instead of repeating this process all over again, the school district must actively reinvest in its local neighborhood schools, providing true community schools that invest in the whole child and the whole family. One such example is the investments put into Gideon Elementary’s new full service clinic for all neighborhood kids. The district should actively market our local public schools to parents, and counterbalance predatory education recruitment from non-profit and for-profit charter companies.  

4. End charter expansion.

The proliferation of charter schools has led to the underfunding and underutilization of public school buildings. We cannot continue down this unsustainable path. Furthermore, public schools should not be “co-located” with charter schools. Attempts to “co-locate” public and charter schools have proven disastrous in other cities, causing strife, division, and competition for resources within school buildings. Every school community deserves its own dedicated space.

By following these principles, the school district can ensure transparency, democracy, and equity in the decision-making that will affect our communities. We are the true stakeholders in our school communities -students, parents, neighbors, and educators- and by organizing together around these principles, we can build the power we need to win the schools Philadelphia deserves.