By Sherice Sargent and Tanya Folk
While many families are enjoying the holidays there are over 500 families who are experiencing unnecessary stressors caused by the School District of Philadelphia (SDP). Dr. Hite announced on December 18 that the new school selection process will continue “as-is,” although proven deficient on many levels during the education committee’s hearing on December 15.
There were many pleas for change from elected officials, experts from many industries and parents city-wide. Some called for “pausing the process,” while others recommended compromises to be embedded in the current plan. All were advocating for something different as the current plan causes confusion, strife and the exclusion of many students including those in marginalized communities.
Since the surprise announcement of the new school selection policy, parents across the city began asking questions and proposing solutions to begin fighting for their communities. Students with disabilities inquired about the accommodation and modification process. English as a Second language (ESL) students sought support to interpret the complicated and poorly executed communication.
Elected officials and families spoke to include more zip codes for diversity, equity, and inclusion of all students. Nevertheless, the Board of Education and Dr. Hite — the outgoing superintendent — continue to move forward in an autocratic manner.
Parents representing HSAs, community activists and those who chose to use their voice organized to gain clarity and support. This process impacts the Black and Brown communities, students with disabilities and English as a Second Language programs. The marginalized are harmed first and the hardest. Why is this the norm? Our communities are still suffering from COVID differently than others. It’s been two months of inquiries with the Board of Education and SDP, Dr. Hite and assistant superintendents refused to engage in dialogue to fully explain their decision to decline proposed solutions.
More importantly, the recent disregard of Board Chair Joyce Wilkerson and Dr. Hite, who declined the invitation to attend City Council’s hearing, further explains the closed mindedness and unwillingness to “partner with parents and family.” This is a staple in the publicly promoted mission and goals outlined by the board.
He resigned effective June 30, 2022; he appears to vacate portions of his position now by his continued absence to address eminent matters. We are advocating for a clear admission policy supported by data, facts, and evidence to prevent the exclusion of any student. Our children deserve reward for success like school leaders promoted for their accomplishments.
The lack of empathy began during a town hall held on October 14, 2021, when Director of Student Enrollment and Placement Darnell Deans suggested to 400+ parents to enroll their child in a private or parochial school if they are not satisfied with the current school selection process. Parents were outraged and insulted. Why chase us out of our schools and our district? During this meeting parents demanded more resources for their neighbor school. Parents prefer their children walking distance to their home versus long commutes. Many do not have this option as the SDP closed 27 neighborhood schools within the last five years.
After reaching out to organizations such as the Philadelphia Home & School Council and Parents United, parents reached out to our elected officials. Even then our cries remain unheard by the majority. We may have different approaches, however, let’s unite to address the matters at hand. We need Mayor Kenney to hold his appointed Board of Education and Superintendent Hite accountable. The last ten years harmed many communities while fostering preferential treatment to others.
All are deserving of the privilege of an equitable funded school regardless of zip codes. The current process breeds division instead of equity. This seems to be continuous in our community. First, our neighborhoods are changing, and now our schools are as well. We cannot be distracted and must recognize the common goal of keeping our communities for our generations to come.
Listen to the testimonials of the hearing — we are unified. We support children, regardless of test scores, zip codes and lottery placement. More importantly, we agree that student achievement, human judgment and closing the gap between magnet and neighborhood schools are needed. So, as we close out 2021, there are students left in an unresolved state while their parents frantically plead for Mayor Kenney and City Council to intervene, since we are still ignored by our publicly funded school system.