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While Moffett waits, her students drift

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While exiled English teacher Hope Moffett continues to languish in “teacher jail,” her 106 11th grade students at Audenried High School are preparing for their third – and in some cases, fourth – substitute teacher in the past eight days.

With the all-important state PSSA exam – the first for the recently re-opened Audenried – just two weeks away, some students and parents say that teaching and learning in the school’s English III classes has largely ground to a halt.

“The [substitute] teacher gives out papers, but no one really does them. The kids are just talking in groups,” said 11th grader Sydney Jackson.

“Ms. Moffett is amazing, the best teacher I ever had. [But] now, I’m just doing work so I won’t fail, not to have fun or actually learn.”

On Wednesday, Moffett finally had her “investigative conference” with District officials, formally discussing for the first time since her removal from the classroom on February 17 the charges that she “endangered the safety and welfare of children” and then violated a gag order not to speak about what happened to her.

As is typical, there was no immediate outcome from the conference. District officials must now determine if they wish to proceed with disciplinary action against Moffett, who has been an outspoken opponent of plans to convert the school to a charter run by Universal Companies. She acknowledged giving tokens to students so they could participate in a walkout from class and protest in front of the District’s headquarters on the morning of February 15.  A follow-up hearing will be scheduled soon.

But Philadelphia Federation of Teachers President Jerry Jordan expressed outrage that Moffett has not yet been returned to her classroom, which he described as one of several departures from normal procedure that the District is following in the case.

“There is nothing that prevents [the District] from having these conferences while she is still teaching her students,” said Jordan.

In addition, he said, Moffett and a second Audenried teacher were given blanket gag orders despite not being told why they were removed from the school.  And the disciplinary action against them was not initiated by Audenried’s principal, but by Assistant Superintendent of High Schools Linda Cliatt-Wayman.

“It’s a concern because it’s unusual,” said Jordan. 

In a statement, District officials said they could not comment on personnel matters due to privacy issues, but added that “a standard employee protocol is in place to address discipline issues related to personnel.”

The District statement also said that “in a teacher’s absence the District provides a consistent professional educator as a replacement.”

Valerie Smith-Webb, the mother of an 11th grader in one of Moffett’s classes and a leader of two different Audenried parent organizations, disputed that notion.

“My daughter tells me all they are doing in class is chitchatting,” said Smith-Webb. “It’s unfair to the students because they’re not learning what they need to learn.”

Smith-Webb is not opposed to the District’s plans to turn Audenried over to Universal for conversion to a charter, and she has reservations about what she perceives as Moffett’s attempts to influence students during recent weeks.

“I didn’t appreciate how [Moffett] handled the whole Universal thing. She kind of gave them her side, and they took that and made it their own,” said Smith-Webb.

But even she thinks the District is unnecessarily hurting students by removing Moffett from the classroom and being “disrespectful” to parents by not keeping them informed about what’s happening with their children’s teacher.

“The kids really like her, and I thought Ms. Moffett was really good in terms of teaching the curriculum. [Now,] they’re not being prepared for testing at all,” said Smith-Webb.

If she were with her students, said Moffett, she would be dividing her time between teaching slave narratives as a part of a curriculum unit on the Civil War and doing mandated test prep for the PSSA.

Students would be getting homework every day and completing weekly “text-based, standards-aligned quizzes” – neither of which has happened since her ouster.

“I find the worst part of this situation is that I am not in that classroom. I find that very trying,” said Moffett. “But this situation can be an example to them that they have the power to advocate for themselves and they can effect change. I think that is the most important lesson they could learn, and I think that’s important enough to risk my job for.”

Sydney Jackson’s mother says that Moffett’s unusual commitment has made a difference in her daughter and should be rewarded, not punished.

“It’s hard to find good teachers, and she puts her heart and soul into the kids,” said R.J. Jackson.

“[Moffett] took it upon herself to put herself out there and risk her job because she believes in our kids and she believes in that school. Who does that?”

Moffett plans to discuss her situation during a live chat today at noon on philly.com.

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