Advocacy groups: Proposed school closures are discriminatory

CHARLES FOX / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER State Rep. Curtis Thomas (left), the Rev. Kevin Johnson (right), of Bright Hope Baptist Church, and others spoke out Monday against the planned closure of 37 schools.
CHARLES FOX / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER State Rep. Curtis Thomas (left), the Rev. Kevin Johnson (right), of Bright Hope Baptist Church, and others spoke out Monday against the planned closure of 37 schools.
Posted: January 29, 2013

ADVOCACY GROUPS charged Monday that the Philadelphia School District's proposal to close 37 schools in June disproportionately affects minorities and disabled students and speaks to a widening gap between the city's economically disenfranchised youth and their more fortunate counterparts.

Action United and the Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools (PCAPS) announced Monday that the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights intends to investigate a complaint that the groups filed.

Of the students in the 37 schools, 81 percent are black, according to PCAPS, compared with 55 percent districtwide.

"The [district] understands that a higher proportion of students in underenrolled, low-performing schools are African-American, and these are the schools that are most affected by the recommended facility closures," said district spokesman Fernando Gallard. "It is also important to note that students at these schools will benefit from the facilities and academic programs improvements that are part of [the plan]."

City Council recently passed a resolution sponsored by Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell calling for a moratorium on the school closings. Blackwell said that lawmakers and school-district officials will have to find a middle ground.

Although Blackwell said that certain deteriorated schools should be closed, she pointed out that the list of proposed closings included facilities with good reputations that served as community anchors.

"I think, for example, that Paul Robeson is worth keeping open," Blackwell said, citing that the high school on the edge of University City just invested in a million-dollar boiler system. "People are very upset about Strawberry Mansion [High School]. . . . They have done such a great job there to make a change, and it's a leading school in the community."

Blackwell also said that closing the McMichael School, in Mantua, was questionable, saying that a housing project from the Philadelphia Housing Authority had just been constructed nearby.

Within hours of Council's approval last week of the moratorium resolution, Superintendent William Hite told concerned parents and students at Martin Luther King High, in East Germantown, that the district wants more time to weigh the options.

Above all, Blackwell said, the debate needs to consider student voices like that of Raquanda Rivers, a student at West Philadelphia Promise Academy.

Rivers, 16, said that the displaced students who would be transferred to her school could disrupt the learning process for both student bodies.

"There would be bigger class sizes and less teachers," she said. "And the learning techniques, maybe, from other schools are moving faster than our school. Maybe they already learned what we learned."

The district will begin holding public hearings on the proposed closings at 11 a.m. Feb. 12.

- Staff writer Regina Medina

contributed to this report.


On Twitter: @AliMarieWatkins

|
|
|
|
|