The Notebook

Paid Advertisement
view counter

Groups press civil rights complaint on school closings

by Dale Mezzacappa on Jan 28 2013 Posted in Latest news

A coalition comprised of an array of political, religious and civic leaders on Monday reiterated its call that the School District to impose a one-year moratorium on closing schools, presenting an analysis showing that the proposal to shutter 37 buildings disproportionately affects Black and Latino students and those with disabilities.

At the same time, they announced that the Office of Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education will investigate its complaint that last year's closings of eight schools schools was similarly discriminatory.

The School Reform Commission's plan will "create educational deserts in African American communities," said Quanisha Smith of ACTION United at the press conference held at the historic Bright Hope Baptist Church. "We don't want these closures to occur before we have time to pursue alternatives."

The coalition of advocacy groups and unions known as PCAPS, joined by State Rep. Curtis Thomas and Council members Jannie Blackwell and Blondell Reynolds-Brown, said that four-fifths of the students impacted by the closings are African American. About 56 percent of the students in the District are African American.

In addition, they said, 24 of the schools have students populations that are 90 percent or more African American, and 22 of the schools have a higher percentage of students with disabilities than the District average.

"The School District has posited that low utilization levels are a central factor in the recommendation of closure, and that many schools with low utilization also have a majority of African American students," the statement said. "However, PCAPS believes the District has failed to demonstrate how displacing these students would improve their educational outcomes."

Kevin Johnson, pastor of Bright Hope, said that Superintendent William Hite's overall reform plan, which includes the proposed closures, "doesn't express a heart for our children."  There is "no vision" behind the closings, he said. "Dr. Hite's plan raises more questions than it answers."

He said that state and local officials should level with the public and tell them that "the balance sheet" is more important than their futures.

Dawn Hawkins, a parent from the L.P. Hill school, said that the "loss of schools will cause tremendous hardship and disaster in our neighborhood." Both Hill and the adjoining Strawberry Mansion High School are slated to close. All told, 11 schools in North Philadelphia west of Broad Street are set to close, on top of several that were closed last year.

"It's always black and Latino neighborhoods that are targetted," Hawkins said. "It's not only an educational issue. It's a civil rights issue."

Jerry Mondesire, president of the local chapter of the NAACP, cited as problematic individual proposals, like the one that would send students from Gompers in West Philadelphia to Beeber Middle School, which has been on the District's persistently dangerous list.

He described the proposal as a "rush to judgement" that did not adequately take into account how the closings will impact students, school workers, and communities.

State Rep. Curtis Thomas, who represents parts of North Philadelphia that have already seen closures and will see more under the District's proposal, delved into some history. He pointed out that a longstanding desegregation case against the District was settled because the reform plan adopted under Superintendent Arlene Ackerman, called Imagine 2014, was deemed to be sufficient to address educational inequities and needs in low-income minority communities.

That case "found that poor kids in Philadelphia were systematically denied access to equal education," he said. "If [Ackerman's plan] is no longer relevant, we're in big trouble. The closings plan "will not only aggravate [inequity] but increase segregation" and deny students access to a quality education, Thomas said.

Councilwoman Blackwell, who introduced a nonbinding closings resolution that overwhelmingly passed Council on Thursday, said that the District didn't take into account new housing construction and neighborhood impact, and ignored potential safety problems. She said she plans to hold Council hearings on the closings on Feb. 12 -- "Lincoln's birthday." 

Reynolds-Brown, while acknowledging that the District does need to deal with underutilized buildings, added that she feels that the District hasn't paid enough attention to safety issues.

In response, the District issued a statement saying it had not yet reviewed the analysis but " understands that a higher proportion of students in under-enrolled, low-performing schools are African American, and these are the schools that are most affected by the recommended facility closures. 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 Facilities Master Plan."

School closings in urban areas and their civil rights implications is a national issue. On Tuesday, many members of the coalition will join advocates from 17 other cities in Washington, D.C., to testify at a hearing before the USED on the subject of school closings and their disparate impact on low-income, minority students. Such closings are occurring on a large scale in Chicago, New York, and other cities.

The letter from the USED's civil rights office notes that the decision to follow up on the group's complaint about the closings that  took effect this year "in no way implies that OCR has decided their merit" - only that enough information was presented to investigate.

Click Here
view counter

Comments (25)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 01/29/2013 - 04:56.

Based on this theory, the PSD should be sued and vouchers introduced as a remedy as its decades of failure and underperformance have disproportionately affected minorities.

It is ironic that the solution sought here is to freeze a failed status quo in place, an act that will only cause more parents to flee to charters over the long run.

It is a great case study of why a large urban district like the PSD is unmanageable and should be broken up. There is a great effort required to overcome the inertia of a failing status quo and its political patrons.

Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on Tue, 01/29/2013 - 10:06.

It's too sad isn't it? The ones benefiting will be the status quo District personnel (self righteous who like to complain but whose inability to understand the world around them or lack of interest in a real solution keeps them from presenting any workable solutions) and lawyers and investors/lenders (when District will have to borrow more money).

I spoke to a grandmother this past weekend, I believe her child is at Ferguson. She told me that the rumor is that Aspira will purchase the building and open a charter, which, if true, will mean there will be a school with neighborhood access still. My opinion is that even if the building is converted to apartment units, the neighborhood will benefit. HIpsters and Hip Oldsters moving in will make the neighborhood both more diverse and safer.The demographic of Philly is changing. Very very interesting how those who are crying "discrimination" look through a very very small glass.

Let's see, we are accusing the charters and private schools of being "sectarian". I suggest we use a dictionary and look that word up. If we do, we see that our Catholic and Quaker schools are actually NOT sectarian, and SHOULD qualify for public funds. I as a taxpayer would NOT object. Vouchers are discriminatory, just fund the conscientious schools outright.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 01/29/2013 - 11:39.

Ms. Cheng,
I don't need a dictionary. I am Catholic. I went to Catholic schools for 16 years.I actually still attend church! I respect much of my background and I mean no disrespect.
Catholic schools ARE sectarian.
My parents never asked for a dime of taxpayer money to educate me.
That is how it should be. If the economic times result in the demise of the Catholic school system, that is the nature of change.
Here is a thought experiment: Catholic school systems die. Catholics uphold the social justice tradition they teach while sending their children to local public schools.
I don't know why the Beatles song "Imagine" just popped into my mind.

Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on Tue, 01/29/2013 - 12:25.

Do Catholic schools prohibit enrollment to those who are not Catholic? Do they teach everything through religious doctrine?

Imagine that Catholic schools have to meet State standards (kids take the PSSA) and that they receive a per child State subsidy in return. Imagine that this then lowers their tuition such that many more diverse children (socioeconomic) can attend if their caregivers would so choose.

I did not attend Catholic school, so only those who have, can answer whether the program is sectarian, that is biased toward a narrow viewpoint. If it is, then I would agree public funding should be withheld.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 01/29/2013 - 16:12.

For many years as enrollments of Catholic students declined, catholic schools have welcomed students who are not catholic.
All students who attend agree to take religion classes. The school teaches in the way it has always taught. It does not agree to adjust its mission or message because some/ or most of the students are not catholic. This is all totally fair game when tax money is not a part of the deal. Catholic schools can't take the "catholic" out of the day. Bulletin boards, religious symbols abound. Students who are not Catholic attend religious services if they are included in the day. There is no need to adjust any discussion to meet ACLU standards- precisely because it is a catholic school.
Ms. Cheng, as a citizen you should not be expected to know all these fine details. You should be able to trust your elected officials to follow the state constitution because they have taken an oath to be public servants and to abide by the law in the interests of all Pennsylvanians.
Both the Mayor and the governor know this. Nutter went all through the Catholic school system. The governor is Catholic. They know full well that Catholic schools are sectarian.
Dale Mezzacappa, would you care to weigh in on this point? To me, it is a very clear point. Mayor Nutter would likely find this a murky point. But he has clearly stated a position in favor of blurring a lot of lines- public/ private....sectarian/ non-sectarian.
As a result, I have completely lost respect for him.
Ms. Cheng, although I do not always agree with you, I appreciate you willingness to ask some good questions and to listen, even if you may not like what you hear.
Thank you.

Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on Tue, 01/29/2013 - 17:18.

I really appreciate you taking the time to write this all out. I hope others find your reply as illuminating/informative as I did. Thank you so much, in return.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 01/30/2013 - 21:48.

Perhaps Dale Mezzacappa is not available to respond .
Would Ben Herold or Paul Socolar or anyone on the Notebook
editorial board like to comment on the Notebook's opinion on
public school children being educated in Catholic schools at taxpayer expense and the separation of church and state issues in the state constitution?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 01/31/2013 - 03:07.

This issue has been adjudicated at the federal level and there is no issue with separation of church and state in the First Amendment. But here is the PA constitution on the matter:

Religious Freedom
Section 3.
All men have a natural and indefeasible right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own consciences; no man can of right be compelled to attend, erect or support any place of worship or to maintain any ministry against his consent; no human authority can, in any case whatever, control or interfere with the rights of conscience, and no preference shall ever be given by law to any religious establishments or modes of worship.

Religion
Section 4.
No person who acknowledges the being of a God and a future state of rewards and punishments shall, on account of his religious sentiments, be disqualified to hold any office or place of trust or profit under this Commonwealth.

A Catholic school is one choice among many. What would probably be unconstitutional- if the PSD were to contract directly with the church to run a Renaissance school for example, where the decision is made by the government. It might also be unconstitutional if the Catholic church ran schools as a profit center to support their ministries, but that is not the case either. Or if the Catholic or other school taught primarily theology and ignored the states basic requirements for secular curriculum, then the school could be denied funding, but the basis would be failure to meet basic quality standards.

But parents choosing a school that meets the states curriculum requirements and allows for religious instruction also does not infringe on rights. Your standing as a taxpayer does not give you the right to complain (in the legal sense of suing) that your tax money is supporting parks and parks are used for a prayer vigil, revival, church picnic or other religious event.

What is definitely unconstitutional is treating religious people or groups differently with regards to public services- for example if a Church group wants to rent a city building, the city can not deny them on the basis that they are a Church. The state can not prohibit a student from praying in school.

Education is a public mission. An educational system that allows parents the choice to send their kids to a Catholic school infringes on no ones rights so long as parents also have the right to NOT send their kid to a religious school, and the equivalent right to send their kids to a Muslim, Jewish, Quaker, or other school that meets the state's basic requirements. And a prohibition on religion is clearly not a valid state requirement.

This issue has been adjudicated often and rarely do courts rule that state initiatives allowing true parental choice unconstitutional.

There is some irony that the left has taken up the cause first championed by the KKK and other nativist anti-immigrant groups 100 years ago.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 01/31/2013 - 03:37.

Forgot to address Article III, Section 15.

"No money raised for the support of the public schools of the Commonwealth shall be appropriated to or used for the support of any sectarian school."

Following a III 14 requiring to support an efficient non-sectarian public school system. Both amendments passed in 1967. They could just as easily be repealed.

Read properly III.15 is primarily a limitation on localities (the state manages no primary schools) who might divert state aid to sectarian schools.

Since the state (and municipalities) raise money from many sources for many purposes, the state can offer whatever other support it wants to citizens who do not utilize public school system as long as it funds public schools as well.

In Section III 15, there is no prohibition on state support for sectarian schools (that is addressed in I 3 and 4), just a prohibition on doing so with money the state raises for public education.

Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on Thu, 01/31/2013 - 22:52.

If you provide religious education "alongside" State required, you are implying it is possible to keep it "separate"; however, truthfully, as the previous commenters attest, it is not possible.

Could Catholic schools exist without the religious education? I wonder very much about Quaker schools, as I did not attend a Quaker school either (I'm a product of public schools). Would they subject their teaching to State jurisdiction? If not, they should remain without public funding, just as homeschoolers, or others who wish to set their own program(s), regardless of the fact that they are meeting State standards in the process. It is about who has control. The State must guarantee a minimum level of education, and needs control to do so. It has no responsibility to guarantee the existence of choices. Religious education can be obtained outside a grade school after all.

Church and State should remain separate. Religion and power together, work against the purpose of education.

This considered, I think it's a stretch to accuse charters of setting their own program, of being sectarian. What religion are they teaching?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 02/03/2013 - 02:15.

PA the state does not own operate or manage schools. So the state is only a regulator in any scenario.

Clearly, there is no requirement that the state (generically this time for local governments) owns operates and manages schools. You can deliver a higher quality of education systematically if the state is not the sole provider.

The PSD and a municipality like Philadelphia is a great case of why the state actually managing schools and exert complete control over them guaranty's low quality.

Philly's political establishment tends will treat any public service primarily as a vehicle for graft, patronage and concessionary labor deals for vote buying schemes. Actually delivering the service, education is an afterthought to these people. Not the main goal it was to parents. If the grafters have more vote than the parents, too bad.

Parents should have this control. With charters, they have gained some. Why not more?

We have the SRC because back in the 1990's as the PSD was insolvent, the politicians continued to prioritize their friends and supporters ahead of children- the $75 an hour electrical workers to plug in computers for example. Who is head of the Democratic party in Philly again? Oh right, the electrical workers union head.

Competition tells Philly's establishment if they want to keep getting their idiot relatives patronage jobs, continue getting their supporters school district contracts, then they at least have to put forth a quality product that parents choose to send their kids to. How does that not help generate quality.

BTW, these last two amendments were passed in 1967 by the teachers union to encourage judges to impose taxes and overturn democratic school funding decisions with arbitrary notions of equity (aka NJ). As a result, NJ has some of the highest taxes in the country. Camden spends $22k a year on its schools and they still suck.

Submitted by tom-104 on Sun, 02/03/2013 - 08:21.

What inverted logic this is! The state took over the School District in 2001 and the SRC has run the District ever since. (The two appointees by the Mayor are just rubber stamps for the Governor, certainly under our present Mayor.) They are the ones who have appointed every Superintendent since. They are the ones who have approved every budget and run up huge deficits.

Do you really believe the state government is any less corrupt than the city government? One of the first acts of the SRC was to appoint Edison Schools to run 64 Philadelphia public schools. That lasted a few year, but the District was steadily undermined with deficit spending and shifting of funds to charter management companies and away from already underfunded public schools ever since.

Parents do not gain control with charters. They become customers. If they do not like what their charter school is doing, they are told to shop elsewhere and the thousands of children from low income families are left behind in the underfunded public schools.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 02/05/2013 - 06:18.

For the majority of its existence the SRC was run entirely by Philly. For 8 of the last 10, Rendell was governor.

I would much rather be a customer than a single member of a weak group (parents) beholden to city council, "one of the worst governments in the western world". I'd prefer to be able to leave the school system without leaving the city. That right is a major gain.

This notion that parents are better off as interest group that city council will ignore everytime in favor of much stronger interest groups (SEIU, PFT, IBEW, their friends looking for contracts). That is a suckers game for parents. They will lose everytime.

Over the summer, as the district planned for these inevitable closing, council's biggest goal was making sure their $80k bus-driver supporters in the SEIU were taken care of first, threatening to withold funding otherwise. This is Philly city council's first priority always- protecting overpaid patronage jobs for their supporters. The fact that councils powers are limited does not change their nature.

Just like the fact that a criminal is in jail doesn't change the potential harm he can do to society. Likewise with city council and schools. The only difference between the criminal and city council is that the criminal has some hope of reforming himself and contributing to society when he gets out of jail.

Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on Tue, 02/05/2013 - 09:19.

Council's inertia in working to change the factors behind neighborhoods' decline (which would account for the inbalance in school closures) is astounding. Your explanation makes a lot of sense. Too bad for Philly.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 02/05/2013 - 06:18.

For the majority of its existence the SRC was run entirely by Philly. For 8 of the last 10, Rendell was governor.

I would much rather be a customer than a single member of a weak group (parents) beholden to city council, "one of the worst governments in the western world". I'd prefer to be able to leave the school system without leaving the city. That right is a major gain.

This notion that parents are better off as interest group that city council will ignore everytime in favor of much stronger interest groups (SEIU, PFT, IBEW, their friends looking for contracts). That is a suckers game for parents. They will lose everytime.

Over the summer, as the district planned for these inevitable closing, council's biggest goal was making sure their $80k bus-driver supporters in the SEIU were taken care of first, threatening to withold funding otherwise. This is Philly city council's first priority always- protecting overpaid patronage jobs for their supporters. The fact that councils powers are limited does not change their nature.

Just like the fact that a criminal is in jail doesn't change the potential harm he can do to society. Likewise with city council and schools. The only difference between the criminal and city council is that the criminal has some hope of reforming himself and contributing to society when he gets out of jail.

Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on Tue, 02/05/2013 - 09:14.

Yes we are talking about regulation, tied to funding (which no matter the source still equates to taxes).

I believe you and tom-104 both have valid points. I would (by ethics and moral standard) favor traditional "brick and mortar" public schools, except for what they've become in Philadelphia (prior and now alongside the creation of charters), indelibly corrupt.

tom-104's argument that charters are sectarian can easily be fixed by getting rid of the PSD altogether, then there will be no "Cinderella" left to sweep the ashes.
In fact having these two systems side-by-side creates quite a windfall for profiteers of all types. It is probably impossible to "clean house" by untangling that web. Having more school districts, as in moving to more charters, will make it more difficult to regulate; but this need might be what it takes to finally get the better/true regulation that is now missing (hope rises eternal). Parents should be given more power, but not all the power.

Submitted by eileen difranco (not verified) on Tue, 01/29/2013 - 12:49.

There is an unproven assumption that Catholic schools do a better job educating students. However, the Catholic schools do not and never have published the results of their test scores. About 15 years ago, a local parish did publish the test results of their school in the parish bulletin. The results were just about the same as the local public school.

Submitted by Annoy (not verified) on Tue, 01/29/2013 - 06:24.

Kevin Johnson, pastor at Bright Hope Baptist, and State Rep. Curtis Thompson backed Ackerman - loudly - until the end. Anything they say is suspect. While I don't agree with all the school closings, some are necessary. There are near empty high schools (Germantown, University City) and elementary schools. I'm tired of the yearly property tax increases. Some of the feeder neighborhoods of these schools have minimal property taxes. The burden of supporting schools has to be spread throughout the city. Delinquent taxes need to be collected or the City needs to act like any other responsible city and act.

Submitted by tom-104 on Tue, 01/29/2013 - 07:11.

Added to this civil rights complaint must be that the Pennsylvania legislature and the Governor are in violation of their oath to uphold the state Constitution. The goal should not just be the equitable closing of schools, but the equitable funding of schools. The Constitution says:

Article III, Section 14.

The General Assembly shall provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education to serve the needs of the Commonwealth.

Article III, Section 15.

No money raised for the support of the public schools of the Commonwealth shall be appropriated to or used for the support of any sectarian school.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 01/29/2013 - 18:52.

Yes, the more important point is being missed by many of the posters. Closing 40 schools will save nearly nothing in the big scheme of things so what's the real agenda? How about further decimating the most vulnerable people in Philly or as the State Repub. Head said, "You know the margin people who don't vote anyway?" In any case, if schools need to be closed for enrollment reasons ALONE, that's one issue but if other agendae--Yes, Latin--is involved, proceed at our peril. This happens to be the USA and our goal needs to continue to be a level playing field, not one designed so the poor are doomed to prison while "Others" are programmed to reach their full potential.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 01/29/2013 - 21:28.

Look who will be on the SRC, Sylvia P Simms. On Phila.gov, she has an open lien against her for not paying PGW about $800. She can't run her own little household budget but she will be 1 of 5 running a $2.5 billion budget. Way to go Nutter!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 01/29/2013 - 21:28.

Look who will be on the SRC, Sylvia P Simms. On Phila.gov, she has an open lien against her for not paying PGW about $800. She can't run her own little household budget but she will be 1 of 5 running a $2.5 billion budget. Way to go Nutter!

Submitted by EdFacts (not verified) on Wed, 01/30/2013 - 10:37.

The schools closing are disproportionately UNDERSERVING African American students. If anything, these school closures are the first step in REMEDYING a horrific civil rights issue.

The inequity of our education system is vast and the schools on the closure list are among the absolute worst offenders.

In schools slated to close, 32% of African American students received proficient scores in math and reading on the 2012 PSSAs vs. 47% of African American students that are not scheduled to close. This 15% imbalance is part of the very reason these schools SHOULD close. African American students are horrifically underserved in Philadelphia schools. The status quo is unacceptable. These changes are painful but necessary in addressing the inequity of the current system.

Submitted by Neil Allen (not verified) on Wed, 01/30/2013 - 20:10.

Catholic schools are still a very dangerous place for children, as you can see by this week’s conviction of a Catholic pedophile priest and a teacher who both had sex with a 10 year old boy, passing him to each other and to another priest in Philly. Google Avery, Engelhardt, and Shero.

The Catholic church tried to protect the pedophiles as they tried to protect Msgr Lynn, who admitted shredding evidence about 35 known pedophile priests in 1994 at the request of Cardinal Bevilacqua and Bishops Cistone and Cullen.

Parents – be wary. Catholics protect their pedophiles like Jesus would protect children.

Submitted by Neil Allen (not verified) on Wed, 01/30/2013 - 20:11.

Catholic schools are still a very dangerous place for children, as you can see by this week’s conviction of a Catholic pedophile priest and a teacher who both had sex with a 10 year old boy, passing him to each other and to another priest in Philly. Google Avery, Engelhardt, and Shero.

The Catholic church tried to protect the pedophiles as they tried to protect Msgr Lynn, who admitted shredding evidence about 35 known pedophile priests in 1994 at the request of Cardinal Bevilacqua and Bishops Cistone and Cullen.

Parents – be wary. Catholics protect their pedophiles like Jesus would protect children.

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.

By using this service you agree not to post material that is obscene, harassing, defamatory, or otherwise objectionable. We reserve the right to delete or remove any material deemed to be in violation of this rule, and to ban anyone who violates this rule. Please see our "Terms of Usage" for more detail concerning your obligations as a user of this service. Reader comments are limited to 500 words. You are fully responsible for the content that you post.

Follow Us On

          

SIGN UP FOR OUR NEWSLETTER

 

Philly Ed Feed

Recent Comments

Top

Public School Notebook

699 Ranstead St.
Third Floor
Philadelphia, PA 19106
Phone: (215) 839-0082
Fax: (215) 238-2300
notebook@thenotebook.org

© Copyright 2013 The Philadelphia Public School Notebook. All Rights Reserved.
Terms of Usage and Privacy Policy