Ears on the Board of Education: March 25, 2021

by Diane Payne

“I can’t believe what you say because I see what you do.” James Baldwin

For the second month in a row, the Board of Education denied some members the opportunity to speak on official items and matters of concern. Due to the Board’s arbitrary changes in public speaking policy, an unknown number of people have been silenced.  Without public announcement, debate, discussion, or vote, the Board instituted a speaker policy change that caps the number of student speakers at ten and adult speakers at thirty, and reduces speaking time from three minutes to two.  Even the School Reform Commission did not resort to outright silencing of the public. The PA Sunshine Act protects citizens’ right to meaningfully participate in their governments and to be heard on all official business.  Shocked reaction to this speaker suppression  has come from staff, Parents, students, community members, local politicians, the Education Law Center, and the ACLU. Those objections have fallen on the deaf ears of a Board that touts public engagement while silencing the public. APPS and UrbEd, represented by the ACLU, have filed suit to reverse the speaker policy changes in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas.

Sign our petition here to tell the Board: Stop the Suppression of Public Speakers!

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Board of Education Hears Demands from Educators and Community: March 18, 2021

by Lynda Rubin

The fact that one hundred thirty-three speakers signed up to speak at this special meeting shows the need for parents, teachers, principals, parents, and community members to be heard by the Board every month. The Board has arbitrarily, without public vote or notice, decided to cap the speaker list at all action meetings to ten students and thirty adults–whether there are thirty action items or sixty. The Board will choose who makes the cut and who is barred,  and President Wilkerson has actually threatened to cut off the mic of anyone whose testimony she deems “irrelevant”. With only two minutes to testify, most speakers have been cut off mid-sentence. 

All Board members and Dr. Hite were present for this remote meeting. Because the Board gutted its official speaker policy, deciding before each meeting who they wish to hear from, they imposed no cap at this special hearing and all speakers were allotted three minutes. Many of those testifying demanded that the Board restore the previous speaker policy. Last week, APPS and UrbEd, represented by the ACLU,  filed a complaint in the Court of Common Pleas, asking that the Board’s violations of the PA Sunshine Act be reversed before the March 25 action meeting.

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Eyes on the Board of Education: March 25, 2021

by Karel Kilimnik

Spring is here, and as more people become vaccinated, we begin to see a light at the end of the quarantine tunnel. Unfortunately, the light of public engagement has been increasingly dimmed by the Board of Education and their ever-changing rules for public speakers, which only erodes trust in the Board and the District. Philadelphia is the birthplace of Democracy, and public education is the foundation of a democratic society.  This incremental silencing of community voices represents a failure of leadership by Mayor Kenney, the Board members chosen by him,  and Superintendent Hite.  The 133 students, parents, teachers, principals, and community members who signed up to speak at the special March 18 meeting proved the need for the Board to lift all constraints on public speakers.  The Board must reverse its regressive speaker policies. 

This agenda is like a closet full of empty suits: cryptic descriptions devoid of information; new and extended contracts to vendors in line for their next helping at the education buffet;  the growing legal firms  slush fund.  Will the Board ever halt this diversion of public money to private vendors? We need leadership determined to rebuild the staff and resources lost from Dr. Hite’s devastating 2013 Doomsday Budget. 

The March Action meeting agenda devotes another mega-block of time to Goals & Guardrails™, the glossy scheme designed by people unfamiliar with education and pedagogy. It reflects a slick attempt to codify education and boil it down to testing results with data as the driver, not the real needs of Philadelphia’s students.

Educator and blogger Peter Greene writes:  “Education has been overrun by the Cult of Data….Data is not magic, and educators should not bow at the data altar.” 

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Board Rejects All Five Charter Applications

by Lynda Rubin

All Board members attended this special meeting, including the three recently inducted members.  There were just five items on the agenda:  to approve or deny new charter applications. In unanimously denying all five applications, the Board took seriously the concerns raised in both the evaluations of the Charter Schools Office (CSO)  and the APPS reports that analyzed the applications and researched the applicant’s founders and investors.

Read more here.