Remarks to the School Reform Commission and Superintendent William Hite
June 16, 2016
Good evening. I would like briefly to place the Renaissance or Charter Renewal Process in the context of the SRC and its origins in 2001, its consistency of approaches since that time, the effect of these approaches on the lives of school district students, parents and staff – especially (but not uniquely) in light of the horror visited on patrons of a night club in Orlando last Sunday morning – on the future of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (including those perceived as such) in our traditional public schools as well as those in publicly-funded but privately-operated charter schools.
Inexorably and step-by-step, our schools were labeled failures based on one or two years of standardized test scores, handed over to a variety of unproven or untested educational management organizations, then to an even greater variety of charters ranging from mom and pop operations to corporate entities – all this in combination with increasingly severe cutbacks in resources and personnel for the schools that we would hope to be your primary responsibility.
Even after the state takeover in 2001, with Policy 102 still in place, school-based Gay Straight Alliances, expanded under the leadership of David Hornbeck, continued to function. Citywide staff development on LGBTQ issues during the administration of Paul Vallas was followed up with a shared required 9th grade reading of the book Am I Blue, accompanied with a curriculum guide rich in research and activities. [Full disclosure: I helped with the compilation]. I am encouraged to see concern for transgender students in a resolution tonight.
SRC-6 Adoption of Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Students Policy
RESOLVED, that the School Reform Commission approves and adopts Board Policy 252 Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Students, in the form attached to this resolution.
The Policy sets forth all legal requirements for schools to accommodate transgender and non-conforming students. The purpose of this policy is to codify the current non-discrimination practices in place.
However, the most recent manifestation of churn: mass closings of neighborhood public schools with no means of appeal; re-organizations and takeovers that send at least half of a school staff packing at the behest of Mark Gleason or the superintendent, and the conversion of more and more neighborhood schools to charters that displace entire faculties is simply devastating to youngsters who so profoundly need consistency, comfort and caring. LGBT youth, at risk of family rejection, peer bullying and greater susceptibility to thoughts of suicide, need the stability of a fully-resourced learning environment, small class sizes, fulltime nurses, adequate numbers of counselors (not just one to a building) –all knowledgeable and sensitive to their issues, who have been provided up-to-date and regularly-scheduled staff development. A consistent citywide curriculum that is inclusive and respectful of LGBT lives, with literary resources on the shelves of a professionally-staffed library rounds out the picture. Only you can see that these resources and protections are provided in traditional public schools. Your ability to guarantee the same in every charter school, given their autonomy, is in doubt.
Barbara McDowell Dowdall
English Department Head (Retired)
Philip Randolph Technical High School
Member, Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools (APPS)