Students and Educators Are Fighting Back - And Winning

On Thursday night, PFT members and leaders in the Caucus of Working Educators were fighting for our students and schools at the February meeting of the Board of Education.  For several years, Caucus members in coalition with Our City Our Schools, organized to abolish the School Reform Commission and fight for local control. Last night’s testimonies from WE members took place alongside students and community members across multiple campaigns that are fighting for the schools Philly deserves.  The presence of this school board and ways that we continue to collectively hold the district accountable are a continued testament to the work, leadership, and local power of students, families, and rank and file educators.

Kait McCann, Jessica Way, and Honey Polis-Bodine testified against increased busy work, top-down lesson plan policies that interfere with educator autonomy, and retaliation against PFT members who are pushing back.  Board members asked follow up questions to testimonies and wanted to know what the extent of district-level administrative retaliation includes and to be put in touch with the specific teachers mentioned in their statements.  Hite named publicly that this policing of PFT members and must end immediately. Read the open letter, read Kait McCann’s testimony, and watch videos from the video here.

These testimonies connected increased teacher bullying to increased attrition in our district.  Proposed language in Policy 111, to be voted on by the Board in March, did NOT reflect the PFT contract.  PFT members have been organizing against these top down policies all year, including circulating an open letter signed by 150 PFT members.  When rank and file educators organize collectively, we can debunk fear and fight back.

We stand in solidarity with the deep organizing work of Philly Student Union and Vietlead in their campaign against policy 805, which would place additional metal detectors in our school buildings. Last night, students at from multiple schools delivered hundreds of petitions against Policy 805.  Students who testified named that this policy upholds the school to prison pipeline and creates distrust and fear in environments that should be welcoming. Metal detectors criminalize and police our students. Funding should be going to additional counselors and trauma-informed supports in our school buildings.  This work connects explicitly to the Black Lives Matter Week of Action, which included a demand to fund counselors, not cops.  The student representative of the school board made a statement that he would vote no to this proposal, voted on at the meeting on March 28.

We support educators who are fighting for increased resources for staff and students.  Educators at Kensington High School also testified last night, demanding more one to one assistants for their students with severe differences and for these positions' salaries to increase. It is currently in the $19,000 annual range. This is wage injustice.  Our paraprofessionals and support staff deserve more. Additionally, members of the WE Immigration Justice Committee who teach at McClure, Elkin, and Taylor Schools, delivered testimony on the need for increased bilingual programs in our buildings. These programs support students who are English Language Learners and often end in lower grades.  These programs need expansion into upper grades to further support our students.

Finally, members of the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools delivered testimony against charter school expansion.  Along with the ten year tax abatement, additional charter expansion takes funding away from our buildings. In the continued to fight for the abatement of toxic school conditions, ending charterization AND the abatement will create additional funding for our schools.  

Of the three charter applications up for approval, the Board of Education denied all three proposals.  Again, for several years, members of APPS have attended SRC and school board meetings to fight charter expansions - the outcomes last night demonstrate the impact of our continued efforts.

These are fights for our working conditions for staff, and learning conditions for students of color,  immigrant students and students with learning disabilities. They are fights to fund our school buildings; a fair contract for PFT members and our students; to end the racist school to prison pipeline; and to build power against privatization of our public schools.  When we organize, we can win.