Commissioner Farah Jimenez
School Reform Commission
School District of Philadelphia
440 North Broad Street
Philadelphia, PA 19130
July 27, 2016
Dear Commissioner Jimenez,
Last Saturday you appeared on the Joy Reid show on MSNBC as part a group identified as “everyday voters” still undecided about the presidential election. You did not disclose to the audience that you are one of five members of the School Reform Commission or that you are the Executive Director of the Philadelphia Education Fund. Nor did you mention that you have been a Republican party operative in the city for years, including being the chair of the Terry Tracy for Council campaign and PA co-chair of CARLY for America (see Volunteer Experience and Causes) (also see: N.E. Conference was a Catwalk for Leaders).
While we can’t speak to the motives of MSNBC staffers who either recruited you or unquestioningly accepted your inclusion in this panel, we do believe that your decision to take part in it was ill-advised. Moreover, your on-air silence about your actual background led viewers to believe that you have no business or ideological stake in the outcome of this election. You presented yourself as an honest broker in the public discourse. This omission was problematic and less than honest.
Although you claimed to be undecided, your comments offered justifications of Donald Trump’s positions, including some word for word repetitions of actual talking points from his campaign. You commented that while “our president” has said he wants to lead from behind and that he has succeeded in that, Trump wants to lead from up front. You repeated Trump’s claim that he wants to take the country back to a time when America had both moral and military authority among the nations of the world. In addition, you repeated words spoken by Jerry Falwell, Jr. at the Republican National Convention when you described him as “a working-class billionaire”.
As you know, the candidacy of Donald Trump is perceived by many in both the political arena and in the media as threat to American democracy. The Washington Post, in a front-page editorial, called Trump “a unique and present danger”. His racist, misogynistic, and xenophobic statements have been criticized by many civic leaders, including Republican elected officials who refused to attend the party’s convention.
Whether you agree or disagree with the above portrayal of Trump, your appearance and comments on MSNBC represents the failure of a government official, especially one appointed to represent the interests of the children of the district and their families, to condemn the racism and misogyny, not to mention fear-mongering against those who belong to a certain religion, which has come from the Trump campaign. The majority of Philadelphia’s students are children of color, representing a variety of cultures and languages. Our children face discrimination every day because of their color, their ethnicity, their sexual identity or their disabilities. Viewers in the city and across the nation witnessed a member of the SRC admitting, on national television, that she is considering voting for a man who has vowed to conduct a mass deportation of undocumented immigrants (some of whom could include parents of Philadelphia’s schoolchildren) and who has mocked a man with physical disabilities. It is disturbing that you would say publicly, on national TV, that you could vote for a man whose campaign actually began when he accused the first African-American president of lying about his place of birth, claiming that he is not a true American.
The School District of Philadelphia has taken steps in recent years to enact policies against discrimination in our schools. An underlying principle of these policies is to promote tolerance and understanding of those who may find themselves outside the mainstream of society and to make sure that all—students, parents, and educators alike— feel safe and included in any district environment, as well as providing important teachable moments. Just two months ago, the district approved the inclusion of Muslim holidays into the school calendar. It is disconcerting to hear an SRC commissioner publicly state that she is considering endorsing a man who has called for a ban on Muslims entering the country and creating a mandatory national registry for them. The district has taken steps to make sure that the rights of LGBTQ students are protected. The district has ongoing staff training to recognize and prevent bullying because it understands the effect that bombastic language and threats can have on minorities and people perceived as different.
Educators have historically been the arbiters of inclusion, tolerance and honest consideration of ideas new and different, with emphasis on reflection and critical thinking. As a private citizen, you certainly have a right to your personal opinions and vote. However, we believe that as an SRC Commissioner, your personal opinions and advocacy decisions are relevant to decisions made by the SRC affecting the thousands of children, parents and taxpayers of Philadelphia.
We urge you to remember that as a member of the School Reform Commission, you are a public official with the affirmative duty to represent the best interests of all of the schoolchildren of Philadelphia.