Teachers, students rally against school cuts, for disciplined teacher

Teacher Hope Moffett is embraced by students Sydney Jackson (left), Jahneekqua Waiters (center), and Tyneesah Davenport.
Teacher Hope Moffett is embraced by students Sydney Jackson (left), Jahneekqua Waiters (center), and Tyneesah Davenport.
Posted: March 15, 2011

More than 1,000 teachers, students, and union supporters rallied outside Philadelphia School District headquarters Monday afternoon against proposed budget cuts and in solidarity with an outspoken teacher who has been targeted to be fired.

Supporters chanted pro-union slogans and held up signs that declared: "We Will Not Be Silenced" and "Egypt, Tunisia, Wisconsin, Philadelphia, We Want Democracy."

Jerry T. Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, spoke against plans to convert public schools into charter schools, and "for the end of intimidation of teachers and students" by the district.

"This is only the beginning of a very, very difficult battle that we're going to have ahead of us for the next several months," Jordan told the gathering outside the building at 440 N. Broad St.

"440, The Real Broad Street Bullies," read one sign in the crowd, referring to the nickname of the Flyers hockey team.

"If we don't stand up and we don't fight for what is right, then democracy is dead in this country," said Ted Kirsch, Pennsylvania president of the American Federation of Teachers.

There were frequent mentions of Wisconsin, where Republican Gov. Scott Walker has spearheaded a push to eliminate collective-bargaining rights for public employees.

"We are the ones who turn our schools around," said activist Helen Gym, founder of Parents United for Public Education. "We are not the enemy."

She also said the rally "is about Hope," referring to teacher Hope Moffett, whom the district is trying to fire.

Moffett, who attended the rally but did not speak to the crowd, has publicly criticized the district's plans to turn Audenried High School over to Kenny Gamble's Universal Cos. Inc. to convert it to a charter school.

The district alleges that she endangered students by giving them SEPTA tokens to attend a demonstration and that she disclosed to reporters a document that the district wanted to keep confidential.

The district seemed ready to fire Moffett but agreed to hold off, pending the outcome of a hearing on the lawsuit filed by the teachers' federation in support of Moffett in federal court.

After Monday's rally, Moffett said that she felt awkward about being a focus of attention, but that she was moved by the large turnout. "I think that the number of teachers showing up was powerful," Moffett said.

Sandra Dillon, 71, attended the rally, although she has been retired for five years. A public-school teacher for 43 years, Dillon wanted to express discontent with the public school administration and Superintendent Arlene Ackerman.

"I'm afraid that Ackerman is on her way to destroying public schools," Dillon said. "Vouchers and charter schools are divisive; they only take the children they want to take. Now that we have all these charter schools, we're getting more and more separate."

Sheila Williams, 55, has taught at Duckery Elementary School for 24 years. "I am here because after 24 years of teaching I still don't have the respect due to an educator whose children make progress, an educator who comes early and leaves late voluntarily," she said.

Williams said the disciplinary action against Moffett was a "disgrace. She has my 100 percent support. A teacher is always a teacher, and this is a civics lesson."


Contact staff writer Mohana Ravindranath at 215-854-2917 or mravindranath@phillynews.com.

 

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