October 18 — 10:00 am, 2018

Parents defend Central High teacher

Supporters say Tom Quinn was targeted for encouraging students to register to vote.

Rebecca Poyourow

Pennsylvania Republican Party Chair Val DiGiorgio has accused Central High School teacher Tom Quinn of distributing anti-Republican material to students as an attempt at “liberal indoctrination.” DiGiorgio’s accusation triggered an exploratory investigation by the District. Quinn’s supporters say that the flier that DiGiorgio said Quinn handed out to students was actually a poster hanging in a staff office at Central High School, alongside political material of conservative viewpoints.

Parents say the attack is particularly troubling because of Quinn’s position in the city as a leader of civic education. He organizes the nonpartisan Philly Youth Vote Campaign to get students ages 18 and older registered to vote. The publicity from the accusation against Quinn has led to threats against him and the students at Central High School.

Below is a commentary on this controversy from District parent Rebecca Poyourow. 

Citizenship 101

As parents, we have an interest in seeing that our children receive a solid education, with exposure to differing viewpoints that challenge them intellectually and strengthen their curiosity about and understanding of the world in all its complexity. We also want our children’s education to open up connections between their studies and their roles as emerging young adults.

The nonpartisan voter registration effort undertaken this fall by teachers across the Philadelphia School District did just that. Educators were inviting young people who were eligible to take up their new role and responsibility by registering to vote. Teachers have been successful in registering many Philadelphia high school seniors across the political spectrum. Students, parents, and a local publication (The Philadelphia Citizen) lauded them for their efforts.

That is what made the call to investigate Tom Quinn, a teacher organizer of the voter registration effort, so appalling. Circulating false evidence in the media, Val DiGiorgio, chair of the Pennsylvania Republican Party, called on School District leadership to investigate Mr. Quinn for alleged “indoctrination” of students. [A letter signed by the teacher’s supporters states: “The image circulated by Val DiGiorgio in media accounts does not show actual material distributed by teachers in their voter registration drive.”]

This was a totally inappropriate use of power by a public figure who has personal connections to Philadelphia’s school board. [DiGiorgio’s sister Maria McColgan is a member of the Board of Education.] Not only did it unjustly target Tom Quinn and silence him while the investigation proceeded and false accusations continued to be circulated in the media – just days before the voter registration deadline – but it also exposed Mr. Quinn and his students to hostile threats on right-wing websites.

The troubling impact of this dishonest charge has the potential to do further damage in Philadelphia and beyond. It has created a climate of fear among teachers, raising concerns about intimidation for continuing with the voter registration drive, despite the fact that it is a nonpartisan drive in line with teaching good citizenship.

Furthermore, the disservice done by Mr. DiGiorgio’s misrepresentation and the investigation he called for extends to the chilling effect it can have on the registration of eligible student voters going forward. By making it more difficult for students to register to vote, Mr. DiGiorgio’s false accusation may further depress the voter registration and consequent turnout of younger voters, a group that has been underrepresented in the voting booth.

It is this context that outraged many parents (and others) and led them to lend their public support to Mr. Quinn and his colleagues. The letter we have signed is linked here, and it continues to gather signatures in support of Tom Quinn and his leadership in bringing a new generation into civic participation. To add your name to the letter, click here.

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