PHILADELPHIA – The 30 students, who had camped out overnight to protest the privatization of 42 schools here, blocked doorways at the School Administration Building April 17.

Over 300 employees were turned away and the School Reform Commission (SRC) was forced to relocate its meeting.

One student leader, Jacob Winterstein, was arrested but not charged. Newly appointed Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson, refused to arrest all the students.

The SRC was appointed to run the Philadelphia schools after a state takeover in December, with three members appointed by Gov. Mark Schweiker and two by Mayor John Street.

After heated debate the School Reform Commission voted 3-2 to turn over 42 schools to seven Educational Management Organizations. Edison Schools, Inc., will get 20 schools, not all 42 as Gov. Schweiker had proposed.

The other management organizations acquiring schools will be Chancellor Beacon Academies (5), Foundation Inc. (4), Victory Schools (3), Universal Companies (2), Temple University (5) and the University of Pennsylvania (3).

Another 28 schools will become 19 “reconstituted schools,” four charter schools and five “independent schools.”

The two commissioners appointed by the mayor voted against the plan. Street, who had called the state takeover a “partnership” in December, now criticized the SRC’s plan.

“I don’t know anyone who understands how these schools are going to work,” Street said. “To privatize so many schools in one swoop, without a CEO and without a tested management team is baffling.”

A spokesperson for the commission said there is a possibility Edison will get additional schools in the fall. Chancellor Beacon and Victory are for-profit school management companies like Edison, but are smaller, new and inexperienced.

Jerry Jordon, vice president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, strongly criticized the SRC’s plan, calling it a vague experiment. “I don’t believe we can afford to experiment with even one child,” said Jordon.

The 100 parents, students and community activists who attended the meeting heckled the SRC as it voted and chanted, “We shall overcome” and “We won’t go away.”

At the end of the stormy meeting, the SRC approved guidelines for the 70 schools that included qualified teachers in every classroom and smaller classes in the primary grades.

Over 400 Philadelphia teachers have applied for early retirement and others plan to resign when they find jobs in other school districts.

On April 19 the SRC sought a permanent injunction to bar protesters from ever again blocking the administration building.

A complaint was also filed seeking $200,000 monetary damages for preventing employees from getting to work.

“No one would listen to us. We had to do the blockade.” said a student, Ben Shapiro.

SRC Chairperson James Nevels said the SRC is not seeking money from the students but if they are being financed by some group then “that’s different.”

Sonia Isard, a student, said, “They’re accusing us of being puppets of the unions and other organizations. But we have been putting our all into working against the privatization of our schools for some time. We fully understand what we are doing.”

The author can be reached at phillyrose1@earthlink.net.

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