Testimony of Rachel Boschen to the BOE, January 30, 2020

Good evening, my name is Rachel Boschen and I am a 3rd grade teacher at McClure Elementary School. Thank you for the opportunity to speak here tonight. Teaching at McClure has been and continues to be one of the great privileges of my life.

I’m sure everyone in this room is aware of the struggles that McClure and so many other schools in this district have been going through with regard to our environmental safety concerns. Every teacher knows that before we can address the academic needs of our students, we must first provide a safe classroom, a safe school, and a safe community. At McClure and other schools around the city, part of this work has included protecting our children from the very buildings we teach them in.

As we all know, it is the school administration, staff, and teachers that serve as the public face and primary point of contact for our families. In one fell swoop we lost a great deal of the trust that we’ve spent years fostering between the school and the community. This trust was lost because of decisions made by the School District of Philadelphia.

As of today, over 600 students lost more than 15 days of school. In that time, my colleagues and I have organized, rallied, and petitioned to ensure that our school will be safe, and that we don’t return until it is. Just as importantly, we have maintained a constant line of communication with our families. Just as when a parent has a question about their child’s homework, I have received countless texts and calls from families asking about the safety of our school, and wondering whether or not their child will have a school to attend the next day. Our staff has shouldered a responsibility that belongs to the district.

One of the only bright spots throughout this emergency has been the opportunity to build an even stronger relationship with our families. We organized community meetings where we not only shared information in a completely open and transparent way, but provided a space for families to voice their concerns, discuss possible plans of action, and come together to support each other in handling the hardships of our school being closed. Our staff and families have done this work not with the support of the district, but in spite of it.

All too often communities like McClure’s are without agency. Instead of empowering our families, the district has repeatedly kept them in the dark. Instead of telling us the whole truth, the district has held meetings behind closed doors. Instead of sympathizing, the district has antagonized. While I don’t want to excuse the total breakdown in the District’s health and safety protocols, the most glaring misstep in my eyes has been the district’s complete lack of respect for the families whom we serve, and turning a cold shoulder instead of offering a helping hand.

It’s obvious how much administrative work needs to be done to improve the failing systems and processes that brought us to this point, but let us not lose sight that this is also a failure of compassion. Nobody deserves to be treated the way our families have been treated over the last month. In the coming days, weeks, and months I hope that this board seriously considers not only the administrative actions that need to take place to ensure that events like this never happens again, but also considers how you might begin rebuilding the trust that has been destroyed through this process. Just as our families look to us to keep their children safe, we all look to you to hold the district, the superintendent, the city counsel, and the mayor’s office accountable for the health and welfare of our public schools.

Thank you for your time.