November 27 — 12:00 am, 2003

Protesters demand improved African American studies

Calling on the District to employ more African American teachers and to make African American studies a mandatory part of the curriculum, about 75 people protested at School District headquarters on November 17.

Led by members of the African and African Descent Curriculum and Instruction Reform Committee and other community groups, the rally commemorated the 1967 protest held on the same day in which thousands of African American students demonstrated on similar issues.

Protest organizer Mukasa Afrika said that the District has failed to follow through on decades of promises to infuse African American studies into the curriculum. He also criticized the lack of African American teachers.

"Seventy percent of the teachers in the School District are white and 65.3 percent of the students are students of African descent. That’s institutionalized racism, " Afrika said.

CEO Paul Vallas did not directly respond to protestors but told reporters that the District follows "fair hiring practices."

Vallas also said that the District is developing African and African American history courses, and that the new social studies curriculum will be "inclusive."

Protest organizers encouraged Philadelphia high school students to walk out of school to join the demonstration, but few students showed up. Organizers later charged that the students faced intimidation when they tried to leave school, with some principals threatening that students would be arrested, and others locking doors.

"These students, like everyone else, have the constitutional rights to protest, especially on issues they believe truly affect their education," said Maisha Sullivan-Ongoza, who attended the demonstration.

District spokesperson Vincent Thompson said high school principals were notified of the protest. But, he added, "In no way did central office give principals any instruction or direction to keep kids from leaving the building."

Thompson said he was unable to confirm or deny incidents at specific schools, but said that the District would investigate individual students’ claims.

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