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Constitution High students protest loss of more staff

By the Notebook on Oct 2, 2013 03:50 PM

by Isaac Riddle

Protesting further losses in staff and resources to their school, around 200 students from Constitution High School staged a “sit-in” in front of their school’s entrance early Wednesday morning. 

The school's staff was informed Monday during an emergency meeting that $90,000 would be trimmed from the school’s budget, according to Kathleen Melville, an English and Spanish teacher at Constitution, a citywide admission school in Center City. The reduction is a result of leveling, the District's process of reassigning teachers about six weeks into the school year, based on actual enrollments at that time. 

Students at Constitution, however, feel their school already lacks an adequate number of teachers and staff.

“We can’t just sit by and let the School District take advantage of us,” said Christopher Warnauth, a senior.

One teacher on the list of possible cuts is the art teacher, said Melville.  

After deep budget cuts district-wide, Constitution High now has four fewer teachers than it did last year, while enrollment has remained level at about 400 students. The school’s guidance counselor was also cut, as was the case at all District schools with less than 600 students. More than 100 schools, including Constitution, share the services of 16 “itinerant” counselors, who travel among six or seven schools each and have caseloads of around 3,000 students.

Students from Constitution preparing their college applications said that they had only seen the counselor once, the first day of school.

“We have to find help for college outside of school,” said senior Brianna Harvey.

Protesters were also concerned with class sizes. Sophomore Myracle Morris said there are 40 students in her English class. “It is really hard for us to learn,” said Morris. “It’s not fair.”

According to Melville, nearly half of the teachers have classes over the limit of 33 students that is mandated by the recently expired teachers' contract. Melville said that none of her own classes are over the limit.

“We would never subject adults to this type of environment,” she said.

District spokesman Fernando Gallard said he could not confirm whether Constitution would be losing a teacher.

Between now and Oct. 15, when the leveling will be completed, "some schools will gain teachers, some will lose teachers," he said. "Our goal is to maintain class sizes as per the contract. That is our goal, that’s where we want to end up at the end of the process."

Protesters were encouraged by the school’s principal, Thomas Davidson, to move inside the building. Before the official start of school, Davidson had warned students of the possibility of facing disciplinary charges from the police.

“I am doing everything possible for you not to get arrested,” Davidson told the student protesters.

City police arrived about 30 minutes into the protest but allowed students to continue protesting outside the school building. Students were advised by police to move their protest into the school lobby.

School police officers eventually began to take down names of those who refused to enter the building once some students had begun to move the protest to the lobby to avoid arrest.

Some students grew emotional as their peers gradually moved their protest to the lobby. Students shouted, “Don’t go in, save our teachers,” but some protesters, fearing suspension, ended their protest outside.

“They say we don’t care about our education because we are out here and not in class,” said Morris. “If we really didn’t care about our education, then we wouldn’t be out here protesting.”

Contributing editor Dale Mezzacappa contributed reporting.

Isaac Riddle is an intern at the Notebook.

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Comments (43)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 2, 2013 5:06 pm
Great job kids! I don't know any of them, but I am proud of them. Sounds like Principal Tom Davidson struck out on this one. And kids, in the future, I don't think a single college in the country (with the possible exception of Brigham Young) would deny you admission for being suspended for protesting school budget cuts. Possibly, the military, but then again, I don't think so. And even then, chances are your high school guidance counselor will "accidentally" check the "no" box when an application asks the counselor if the student has even been suspended.
Submitted by PhillyMelville (not verified) on October 2, 2013 5:04 pm
Thank you for reporting on this. One correction: I did not mention that Miranda Thompson is on a list to be cut. Students are concerned that we might lose our art teacher, Mr. Boyle. Ms. Thompson is our technology teacher.
Submitted by the Notebook on October 2, 2013 5:00 pm

Thanks for pointing out the error. It's been corrected.

Submitted by Helen Gym on October 2, 2013 11:17 pm

Kathleen: Would love to get the students to file complaints about this situation. Happy to come by anytime. Email me?

Submitted by Alison McDowell (not verified) on October 2, 2013 5:56 pm
I don't understand how students could be threatened with arrest? On what grounds, truancy? I continue to be energized the the level of engagement and passion Philadelphia's students are showing in the face of this crisis. Good job-and shame on anyone who would try and suppress their voices!
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 2, 2013 5:52 pm
I was wondering the same thing. As long as they weren't blocking the doors, then they should have been fine, right? Did the principal also threaten them with double secret probation? Did he threaten that it would go on their "permanent record"? Did he threaten to take away their three claps and a sizzle?
Submitted by Geoffrey Winikur (not verified) on October 2, 2013 6:29 pm
Civil disobedience is only relevant as part of the 11th grade English curriculum and, by extension, the Keystone Exam. Otherwise, kids, shut up and get back to your over-crowded classes.
Submitted by Stewart (not verified) on October 3, 2013 8:47 am
Probably something like disorderly conduct for "impeding the flow of foot traffic" or one of the other classic excuses to arrest protestors of any kind. "Loitering" is common for this too, and often used against juveniles in public spaces (like the sidewalk the students are on in the photos above.) The students were obviously (from the same photos) being careful to not obstruct the sidewalk and conduct an orderly demonstration; their social studies teachers should be proud. It's what kept the police from simply hustling them inside and/or arresting any "resistors" immediately. Instead, they had to wait and let the protest work itself to a conclusion. Other students considering protest actions should take a look at how this one was conducted. This was very well done by the students; they achieved the purpose of any protest in getting their issue and concerns before the public through the press, then they concluded it in a manner that makes them look like the mature and responsible party. That's how to do it. Well done, Constitution High protestors, you've done your school proud.
Submitted by Taxpayer (not verified) on October 2, 2013 6:57 pm
Who is putting these kids up to this? We need an investigation. If it is members of the PFT, they need to be weeded out and fired.
Submitted by Alison McDowell (not verified) on October 2, 2013 6:40 pm
If you had been paying attention, you would know that Philadelphia's students have played a major role in voicing dissent over these crippling cuts. I see members of Philly Student Union and Youth United for Change at many rallies and actions. They are amazing and don't need to follow the lead of adults--in fact we should look to them for inspiration.
Submitted by Miranda Thompson (not verified) on October 2, 2013 8:42 pm
Thank you Alison. In fact, these kids organized this protest on their own, without staff help or even knowledge about the actions, in less than 24 hours. I know it's en vogue to hate on teachers, especially those of us in urban public education, but it is so gratifying to know my kids love and need me.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 2, 2013 10:23 pm
Please accept that the students at Constitution High, which focuses on Governtment and History, organized this protest themselves without outside help from adutls or other organizations. Like their action or not, please give them credit for having brains, drivfe, and a sense of civic duty to protest the defunding of educational services at their school. Instead of looking for the for outside organizers, accept the reason for the protest as a legitimate one in the minds and hearts of the students that 'sat out'.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 3, 2013 12:42 pm
These student are doing a wonderful thing..they value their education.
Submitted by Alison McDowell (not verified) on October 2, 2013 6:54 pm
If you had been paying attention, you would know that Philadelphia's students have played a major role in voicing dissent over these crippling cuts. I see members of Philly Student Union and Youth United for Change at many rallies and actions. They are amazing and don't need to follow the lead of adults--in fact we should look to them for inspiration.
Submitted by anon (not verified) on October 2, 2013 6:52 pm
taxpayer, you're spoofing us, right? you can't be that straight-laced.
Submitted by Alison McDowell (not verified) on October 2, 2013 6:51 pm
I've seen their work first hand. Very moving. Seems like you're just writing them off. Too bad for you.
Submitted by Taxpayer Too (not verified) on October 2, 2013 6:53 pm
Yeah, because high school students can't think for themselves. They seem smarter than you. " We need an investigation", boy you must not know our constitution well. The constitution gives these students the right to assemble.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 3, 2013 2:01 pm
You seem so frustrated with them protesting, so why don't you fund the schools? Then the P.F.T won't be the "source" as you claim. You should really read into this because if you did then you would know that it was a Student Protest with Student Leaders
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 2, 2013 6:29 pm
It's the kids' rights to protest. Teachers aren't allowed to intervene or tell them to or they loose their job.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 2, 2013 7:16 pm
All the students in all Philadelphia schools need to do this. Daily protest, civil disobedience, whatever it takes. Passive tactics will not work with the SDP aministration.The SRC,Hite, Corbett, Nutter and the "reformers" (AKA hedge fund investors), are not caring people and definitely could not give one bit about students or their education. They just care about their paychecks, prestige, legacy, power, etc. Students keep up the fight. Take back the schools. The teachers and staff at your schools are on your side-not the people mentioned above.
Submitted by Miranda Thompson (not verified) on October 2, 2013 7:04 pm
I am a founding teacher at Constitution High, and I am incredibly proud of our students for taking a stand against these outrageous cuts to their education. Our school is based on active citizenship, knowledge of history, and democratic deliberation. Taxpayers, stop your investigation- we have been training these students about their civic responsibilities for 8 years. These students don't need to be told to protest- they are the ones sitting on the floor in a class with 40 other kids. They are the ones who have seen favorite teachers and staff back up their belongings last June. They are the ones struggling the most with these cuts. We lost our secretary- the mom of our school- and we still miss her every day. We lost our counselor- one of the most caring, dedicated people I have ever known- who got laid off 7 mos pregnant. Now our seniors (we had 100% college acceptance last year) have no trained guidance counselor to assist them in applying for college and for scholarships/financial aid- nor do the dozens of students working through the grief of losing family and friends to disease and violence. We have a counselor TWICE A MONTH. We have several kids with broken legs, who take medicine, who have asthma or life threatening allergies- and a nurse ONCE a week. We haven't had a librarian in 6 years. These are the classes we have had to cut due to loss of staff: Journalism, Public Speaking,Creative Writing, American Studies, Constitutional Law, Economics, Psychology, Sociology, Calculus, AP Calculus, Physics, Spanish 3, Spanish 4, Weight Training, Visual Arts, Playwrights, Junior Seminar, Entrepreneurship. Philadelphia, take a cue from these kids and demand immediate action on the Philadelphia school funding crisis- from all levels of government and both parties.
Submitted by Phila citizen and public school fan (not verified) on October 2, 2013 8:39 pm
Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on October 2, 2013 8:01 pm
You should be proud of the Constitution HS students. Unlike the Hite's "chosen" schools (SLA, Hill Freeman, Workshop), many other small special admit schools are hurting. You've listed incredibly disturbing curricular cuts. This is also happening at neighborhood high schools. Hite/Khin/SRC/Gleason/Nutter "status quo" is not sustainable. It also is ridiculous for the "crew" to claim schools will get resources when teachers take pay cuts. It is patronizing and bully tactics. So much for "no bullying" in school.
Submitted by Alison McDowell (not verified) on October 2, 2013 11:58 pm
I hope you are aware of the effort now underway by the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia and Parents United for Public Education to document the deficiencies you described here to the state Department of Education. They are working to lay the groundwork for a class action law suit against the state for providing insufficient funds for public education. Students impacted by lack of counselors, lack of nursing staff, lack of compliance with IEPs or GIEPs, or other curricular deficiencies (no library, no art, no music, etc.) should file one or more complaints. Detailed instructions are available here: I just submitted complaints for my daughter today. I hope the families of your students will exercise their rights in this way as well. They are brave, motivated young people.
Submitted by Concerned Parent (not verified) on October 2, 2013 10:50 pm
I am very impressed with the support the children at Constitution High has shown for their education. My son attends Con High, the lack of funds and cuts show tremendously in the day to day routine of the school. I am questioning my youngest wanting to apply to the school also. As for the art teacher Mr. Boyle, I respect his work and his influence on the children. Constitution staff are a little more than just educators, they are nurturers and inspiring our children to want more out of life than what the district is willing to offer them.
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on October 3, 2013 6:04 am
I am also impressed with the students at Constitution High and the other schools such as Roxborough High. I encourage you to continue your belief in that school community. The best way to learn about our Constitution and its importance to us as a free and democratic society is to actually practice it every day in the governance and leadership of our schools. I believe that the ideals of democracy should become part of the fiber of every school community if we really do want to have Great schools for children. Your child, and those students, are leaders in this, and the lessons they are learning will be valued by them forever. This is a very meaningful real life learning experience for them and us, too. The Constitution does not stop at the schoolhouse door, and it cannot be allowed to in our city or our America. However, we should all understand and advise our children that reasonable "time place and manner" restrictions on free speech in schools are almost always upheld by courts. My advice is to encourage our students to speak passionately about their rights to an equal, through and efficient education, but to do so with class and dignity.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 3, 2013 8:43 am
I am a parent who has a student in SLA and in Constitution High School. This is their 2nd year. SLA's principle has worked very hard and passionately for his school and its students to raise funds to keep his school up and running. The parents all chipped in, in every-way imaginable, at the end of the last school year to raise what was needed to keep the school where it is today. Constitution regretfully had a set back at the end of last year as their principle was out on sick leave and the interim leader did not seem to seem have the interest of the schools future at heart - I only say this because I did not see any activity to reflect otherwise. I do support both schools as I am able and I am glad that my children love their schools and teachers. When the students respect themselves, each other, their teachers, and their schools, it is an amazing thing and amazing things happen.
Submitted by Alison McDowell (not verified) on October 3, 2013 10:41 am
All schools should have sufficient resources provided through public funds to offer a quality education. The trend towards requiring schools to pursue outside funding through foundations and larger and larger gifts from parents creates a two-tier system of education that is not good for the future of our city, state, or nation. Our children and their teachers deserve long-term, sustainable funding. We need to close loop holes and tax corporations appropriately rather than being grateful for the targeted crumbs they provide via their foundations. Robert Reich has spoken very eloquently on this topic: I suggest it is in all our long term interests to hold the state accountable for providing the education they are mandated to provide in the state constitution. File more complaints, and perhaps buy fewer magazines.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 3, 2013 11:28 am
I don't buy magazines or chocolates or any of the other items the schools sell - the help I provide is teachers needs i.e. pencils, paper, rulers and the like.
Submitted by Alison McDowell (not verified) on October 3, 2013 11:04 am
But SLA has gone the route of aggressively seeking outside funding and many schools with social / financial capital are asking parents for large cash donations to the tune of $100s of dollars-$500, $600+ per child. That's not right. I do hope you will file complaints for your child at Constitution High. It shouldn't be on them, or their teachers, or their principal to fix this. It's bigger than all of them, and parents need to speak up.
Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on October 3, 2013 11:14 am
SLA, like Workshop and Hill-Freeman, took the money from the Phila. School Dictatorship - the epitome of the right-wing privateers. No school should have to slid so low as to accept money from an institution determined to destroy public education. SLA also has a wealthier student body - how else could parents give $500 or more?
Submitted by Alison McDowell (not verified) on October 3, 2013 11:59 am
There's a new, easier way to file your complaint about the state's cuts to public education. Parents United has just launched an online form. In just a few minutes, your voice can be heard.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 3, 2013 2:23 pm
That's interesting, but the state didn't cut funding. The state is giving more state money to the SDP than ever. What got cut was the federal pass through money that ran out. How about next year when federal discretionary spending is cut more? Will that be Corbett's fault, too?
Submitted by Student from Con High (not verified) on October 3, 2013 9:02 pm
But the state was well aware of the SDP needed more money to function successfully. The truth of the matter is the "leaders" in the state government do not like Philadelphia. They believe that we will never rise to anything, so why try.
Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on October 3, 2013 9:57 pm
The Phila. School Dictatorship / SRC / Hite/Khin / Corbett favorite schools - Mastery Inc. and Young Scholars Inc. - are working with more substantial budgets than District schools. Just look a their Dictatorship funding. So, while District schools are starved and threatened with quick closure, the Company schools are feeding at the troth of the multimillionaires.
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on October 3, 2013 10:04 pm
Hi student from Constitution High! I just want you to know that I, and many others, have every bit of respect and admiration for you and your fellow students. I am sure your teachers believe in you and so do we in the Notebook community. Rest assured you have a whole lot of people in this community who believe in you and what Constitution High stands for. Never be afraid to stand up for yourself and your fellow students. Just do it in a positive way like you are. There are many in our community who do care and are working for you and to help you attain your right to a quality education in a public school. You will learn from this experience and you will carry it throughout your lifetime and be a better person for it. Although many of us are retired teachers and administrators, and parents of other students, we are still in your corner.
Submitted by Student from Con High (not verified) on October 3, 2013 10:08 pm
Thank you so very much! Hopefully, our leap of faith will work to change something.
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on October 4, 2013 7:26 am
You are welcome and Yes you Can. Yes you can change the world you live in. So study hard.
Submitted by amarjunan (not verified) on October 3, 2013 1:31 pm
If the actions taken by these students to declare and defend their right to a fair and equitable education isn't a democratic principle in action, or an expression of civic duty, I don't know what is. Good job kids! I and I'm sure many others stand with you in solidarity.
Submitted by Student from Con High (not verified) on October 3, 2013 10:52 pm
Thanks for all the support from all of you on the behalf of our student body. It is highly ridiculous that we have to go to school in this condition. No one should have to suffer. To be in a school without a sufficient amount of teachers to ensure that everyone is learning hurts everyone. It is common knowledge in society that students now are the future. The future leaders. The lawmakers. Yet, here we are being held back from actually going the distance. In a way everyone is too focused on the now. What about the future? What about when the people in power needs medical care and there aren't enough doctors? Not only are they dimming our futures, but there own as well.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 3, 2013 11:25 pm
You already get that, unlike many politicians,Corbett, Nutter, and school administration leaders,SRC,Hite and the "reformers" (hedge fund managers)Koch's ,Gates, Waltons, Gleason, etc.Many are them are short-sighted,self-serving,uncaring,power -hungry, and their main concern is only about their reelections, how much money they can make and their legacy-not the education or the children involved with that. Regardless, stick it out and continue your grassroots efforts. It's your learning experience, not the aforementioned people above. Keep up the fight. You will get the support of the real people (the teachers and support staff) that go out on a limb for our students.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 3, 2013 11:33 pm
This is what democracy looks like! I'm so proud of these young people!
Submitted by Mr. Barnes (not verified) on October 6, 2013 9:53 am
I was an instructor at Constitution High School last year and had ample opportunity to be proud of its amazing staff and its superlative student body - but I don't think I've ever been as proud of these pupils as I am now. With the whole educational system crashing down around their ears, they have shown enough guts to scream, "NO MORE!" as they are being marched into academic oblivion -and to stir themselves from a somnambulance that is dooming far too many of their peers to a fifth-rate future. Like lambs to a slaughter, they SEE where they are being led - and to resurrect a war cry from my own generation - they are digging in their heels and saying, "Hell, no! We won't go!" If I could hug every one of these kids, I'd do so proudly. AND give a well-deserved pat on the back to C. H.'s staff. A year ago, they were grossly undermanned and performing miracles on a daily basis with a skeleton crew of instructors. I can't imagine how dire the situation must be this term. Because I have one foot in the world of education and one foot in private industry, I am in a unique position to assess both the market value and the cost-per-unit of the service these instructors render: it is estimable. It also begs a few questions that have yet to be answered by those who are so gleefully wielding a hatchet to both the teachers union and the SDP budget. To wit: Where do you expect to find enough teachers to man your vaunted charter schools - especially those in hard core inner city areas? The pipeline of education majors is drying up; college students are no longer willing to get themselves in 60K worth of debt - OR to pursue a requisite/costly masters degree - in order to earn a gross salary of 35K, especially when said positions entail no pension and scanty benefits (as with far too many charters) and dangerous working conditions. Is it any wonder that the teacher turnover rate at charter schools is so shockingly high? True, you COULD man these schools with TFA "Let's all sing KUMBAYA" types - or do away with teacher cert requirements altogether - but then, you can't keep the chickens from coming home to roost. How many TFA's are equipped to teach seriously emotionally disturbed pupils (a population growing by leaps and bounds); how many are equipped to teach calculus or physics or organic chemistry or advanced languages? Or do TFA's expect to master these difficult subjects in their six weeks of training? When it becomes all-too-apparent ( and all-too-clearly documented) that the least amount of funding is going to African-American and Hispanic pupils, how do you expect to avoid a federal investigation? And after Governor Corbett is shown the door (his current numbers are in the cellar), how does the SRC and Hite and his Eli Broad cronies expect to avoid the vitriolic backlash that will surely fall upon them? They may run, but the hatred so many feel towards them is so overwhelming, it will preclude their hiding. (As a former Broad-trained SDP superintendent learned only-too-well from her lair in New Mexico, where she finished her final career years in disgrace.) There are a million unintended consequences that will result from this brazen experiment in social engineering. There always are. But who will be left - and willing - to clean up the mess? An old Chinese curse: May you live in interesting times. That we do. But maybe -thanks to the courage and the strength of students and staff like those at Constitution High - we will be able to weather these times and emerge into something somewhat less dire than a holocaust. Keep the faith.

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