District: Hope is gone

Teacher Hope Moffett, with microphone, at a rally outside School District headquarters in February.
Teacher Hope Moffett, with microphone, at a rally outside School District headquarters in February.
Posted: March 08, 2011

EVEN ONE of Superintendent Arlene Ackerman's staunchest supporters finds the impending firing of outspoken Audenried High School teacher Hope Moffett to be "outrageous."

It "smacks of royal vengeance," J. Whyatt Mondesire, president of the Philadelphia chapter of the NAACP, said last night.

Moffett, 25, expects to be formally told that the district plans to fire her when she meets again with school administrators today.

Mondesire called the punishment of Moffett, one of the most outspoken critics of the district's plan to put Audenried on a list of "failing schools" and convert it to a charter school, "disgusting."

He said that he will contact Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, today to offer the assistance of the NAACP's lawyers should the PFT fight Moffett's termination in court.

"You can't act with impunity," Mondesire said of the school district. "You can't fire someone because they object to a policy. We don't tolerate a person's constitutional right to disagree with a policy to be violated."

Yesterday, on her 10th day in "teacher jail" - a basement room in the High School Academic Division building at Ridge and Susquehanna avenues - Moffett received a copy of disciplinary papers essentially finding her "guilty" of the two charges against her - providing students with SEPTA tokens to attend a protest against Audenried's being turned into a charter, and then discussing her punishment after being ordered not to.

"I knew when I started speaking out that I probably would be fired," Moffett said last night. But, she added, "the district fast- tracked this. I don't know when the district has ever acted so quickly. Usually these things are drawn out."

She said that she would continue to report to the so-called "rubber room" until the School Reform Commission votes on whether to terminate her, as recommended by Linda Cliatt-Wayman, assistant superintendent for high schools.

In her six-page letter to Moffett, Cliatt-Wayman recommended that Moffett "be terminated of her service . . . '' Her letter said Moffett's views on the plans for Audenried "are irrelevant to this incident."

Shana Kemp, a district spokeswoman, had no comment on Moffett's case, but e-mailed a portion of a district policy about the responsibility of teachers regarding students' safety during school hours.

The policy states that teachers "shall exert reasonable effort to protect the student from conditions which interfere with learning or are harmful to the student's health and safety.' "

The policy also states that all trips outside of school require signed permission from a parent or guardian. Kemp declined to comment on Mondesire's statement.

Mondesire is one of several public figures to have strongly supported Ackerman amid a volley of criticism over a number of controversial matters.

Among them were the district's response to violent attacks that targeted Asian immigrant students at South Philadelphia High School in December 2009, and her advocacy for inclusion of minority entrepreneurs in the awarding of district contracts.

"The NAACP has been around for 100 years and sometimes we have disagreement with even our closest friends," Mondesire said.

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