ABOVE PHOTO: State Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams
State Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams has added a new front to his ongoing campaign for school funding and safer climates in the public schools. In a gesture of solidarity, he’s joined a growing list of those fasting to preserve school safety.
“While my participation may be symbolic, the cause for which we are all standing is very real,” Williams said. “Without adequate funding, the consequences of inaction stand to be devastating to our schools. Safety is the one area where no one should be willing to compromise when it comes to our kids.”
Fast for Safe Schools began after the School District of Philadelphia announced its doomsday budget, which included layoffs for nearly 4,000 employees. The largest group was some 1,200 student-safety staff, who work as aides to keep kids safe in lunchrooms, hallways, playgrounds and more.
“We’re happy with all that Sen. Williams is doing to help public education and that he has decided to join our struggle,” said Anthony Dugdale of UNITE HERE Local 634, which represents the student-safety workers. “We attended all the hearings, we petitioned, we called, and we weren’t being adequately heard. So, we looked to Gandhi, to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; they set the example. We’re calling on a higher power with fasting and prayer.”
Since June 17, parent members of UNITE have been abstaining from food and drink, except water, and have stood in front of Gov. Tom Corbett’s Philadelphia offices at Broad and Walnut streets from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Their hope is to bring attention to safety issues and to encourage a resolution. Williams will fast on Sunday.
With the closure of dozens of schools, fears of increased violence among formerly rival students and neighborhood skirmishes are running high. These situations are typically diffused by the targeted aides. Without their presence, “we could be looking at a nightmare come September,” Dugdale said.
The school district continues to seek an additional $120 million from Harrisburg to help avert a catastrophic $304 million deficit. Williams has been working for months with state and city lawmakers as well as corporate citizens to help find a solution to the district’s ongoing woes.
The campaign lists a host of supporters, including U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, state Reps. Vanessa Lowery Brown and Jordan Harris, and City Council members Maria Quinones-Sanchez and Kenyatta Johnson.
“This school crisis is a shared responsibility,” Williams said. “These are humble men and women who give their all on the ground on behalf of children. They are willing to put their faith and their bodies on the line. I’m proud to support them.”