Testimony of Charlie McGeehan to the BOE, July 23, 2020

Good evening. My name is Charlie McGeehan, and I am the Building Rep at The U School. We need to be able to both deal with COVID-19 and racism at the same time – so I will do that with my 3 minutes.

I will begin by saying that the only safe and logical decision right now is to start the year 100% online.

I want to express my full support for the Racial Justice Organizing Committee’s 10 demands for Radical Education Transformation. I am glad to see that the District is starting an Equity Coalition, and I am hopeful we can get comfortable saying the word “antiracism”. I am concerned that educators in our district are being told that this Coalition requires “volunteered work and support that may go beyond the traditional work hours”. If the District is truly committed to antiracist work, you need to put money behind it and compensate people for their time. A team of 3 people from each of our 214 schools, paid 50 hours at the PD rate, would cost less than $1 million. 

When we can afford to spend $31 million on School Police, but you ask employees to volunteer their time for “equity work” what message are you sending? You need to take up Philly Student Union’s call for Police Free Schools now. Spend a little of that money compensating folks for their work on antiracism, and the rest hiring community members and training them in restorative justice.

As for the reopening plan, I trust less every day that this plan will be implemented in a way that keeps students, families, and educators safe. Not a single student spoke tonight in favor of this plan – or indeed a single speaker so far.

I want to focus the rest of my testimony emphasizing how bad of an idea the Digital Academy is. When the logical and safe option is to start fully online, this “choice” system is going to decimate school communities. It’s truly an awful idea. 

Original plan documents tell us that these students who choose this online option will remain a part of their school communities. We learned yesterday that this wouldn’t be true as it applies to staffing. While Dr Hite said that the District would try to move educators around before normal leveling time, this will still cause a MASSIVE disruption to our school communities. We also learned yesterday that students would have to commit to staying in the Digital Academy for two quarters, even if the district went fully online. Dr. Hite reversed course on this tonight.

This idea is also heartbreaking to me as a teacher. It is an awful position to be in to know that if our students and their families make the safe decision of starting the year from home, that we won’t get the opportunity to teach them for at least 2 quarters. Working at a school that already does much of its learning online, and that is well-suited for this environment, it makes this even more frustrating. Compound that by the fact that our staff members are going to be transferred to other schools and you have a heartbreaking, enraging disaster.

IT DOES NOT HAVE TO BE THIS WAY. We can start the year online, we can be safe, and we can establish drop-in centers to help meet the needs of our students. But creating a WHOLE NEW SCHOOL to house students who work online is an absolute disaster.

As you sit considering whether we should return to school buildings in a month, you are still meeting from home. This needs to change. The School Board should be meeting in the same room, socially distanced under the expectations of our classrooms. Ideally, you’d use the least well-ventilated space that could be in use in September for students and educators – just to model for us.

I want to close by reiterating: We need to start the year fully online.