PhARE describes itself in pamphlets as a branch of Occupy Philadelphia, and Saturday's rally was reminiscent of its parent group's in-your-face tactics in defiance of corporate America.
Members held signs that read, "Students Over Profits," and "Close Prisons Not Schools, among others. Their rally march began at 17th and Market, wound around City Hall, went down Broad Street and culminated at the school district office.
"There is a movement in our country, particularly here in Philadelphia, to destroy our schools," said Yvette Jones, a member of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, who has been an educator for 27 years. "The Philadelphia School District is in the midst of a severe financial crisis."
Earlier in the day, about 400-plus people attended a 10 a.m. community meeting in the auditorium of South Philadelphia High School to describe the impact of the new round of school closures on residents.
The public meeting erupted in shouting at several points as angry parents challenged Hite's plans to shut or relocate 44 schools that were deemed inefficient, underutilized or unsafe.
Hite made the announcement on Thursday - considered the largest contraction in the history of the Philadelphia School District - that could impact 17,000 students and 2,000 staffers.
Several parents and students got in line to have a crack at the microphone during the public comment period that began at 10:30 a.m. and didn't let up until school administrators ended it at noon. Many in the audience were students who will be affected by the closures.
"You need to go into the community and give us answers!" shouted Vernard Johnson, 65, an education consultant who does work at several schools citywide. "This process is a fraud."
Hite and other school district officials looked on stunned as Johnson and many others Saturday demanded answers to a range of questions from how their special ed children would be able to adjust to the relocations, to how certain schools were spared and others were not.
Under the district's plan, some schools would swap buildings. In South Philadelphia, for instance, higher-performing Abigail Vare Elementary would move to the George Washington Elementary building, which is considered in better structural shape.
"It's not just about efficiency with our schools," said Howard Trondle, 61, who has three grandchildren at Vare. "It's about community."
Matthew Gilliam, 16, an honors student at University City Promise Academy, which is slated to close, asked Hite directly how such decisions were made. Gilliam noted how his life would be greatly disrupted by having to change schools.
Hite told Gilliam that University City Promise Academy was built to accommodate 2,500 students and currently has 500.
"We are spending a lot of money in repairing and maintaining that school," Hite said. "Heating and ventilation are a problem for such an underused amount of space."
To which Gilliam shot back: "But you have 500 kids that want to get far in life."
Hite said last week that the changes were necessary for the district's survival and would result in $28 million in savings. He said some of the money would be plowed back toward academic programs and safety initiatives.
The School Reform Commission is scheduled to vote on the shutdowns in March.
While the public meeting was underway in South Philly, about two dozen who later joined the PhARE rally locked themselves into a Wells Fargo bank branch in Center City to protest what they said was the role of banks in the closure of public schools.
The protestors held a 10 minute demonstration just after 11:15 a.m., before bank managers locked the doors and refused to let them leave for about a half hour.
Wells Fargo was one of the banks involved in school district debt deals that the group deemed as risky.
Contact Suzette Parmley at 215-854-2855 or email@example.com.