PHILADELPHIA – An organized struggle against the state takeover and privatization of schools here continues. The Philadelphia Student Union has been one of the organizations that has been at the forefront of this struggle, and the presentations of some of its members at the April 10 School Reform Commission (SRC) meeting were examples of its work. The SRC was appointed by Gov. Mark Schweiker and Mayor John Street to run the Philadelphia schools after the state takeover in Dec. 2001.

Students came to the April 10 meeting with tape over their mouths to dramatize the lack of input of students, parents, educators and community leaders into the SRC’s plan to reform the School District of Philadelphia. The SRC meetings are held at 1 p.m. on Wednesdays, when most people are at work and students are in school.

A student, Selemawit Tewelde, went to the microphone with her mouth taped. As she stood there for her three-minute speaking time, students rose from their seats, one at a time, and said, “I will not be silenced.” Loud applause followed.

A passionate presentation was made by Jacob Winterstein, a 15-year-old sophomore at Masterman High School. “I am sick and tired of people passing the buck when it comes to my education,” he said. Winterstein compared the present learning conditions of inner-city students to the conditions African-American students faced 40 years ago – separate and unequal.

“We continue to be denied resources and opportunity because of who we are and where we live,” Winterstein said. “We are in a state that finds billions for sports stadiums and concert halls but when it comes to education it turns its back on children.”

Winterstein challenged the School Reform Commission to make radical change by empowering students, teachers, and community leaders, instead of money-hungry CEOs of for-profit companies like Edison Schools, Inc. “Prove you care by getting the governor to change the funding formula. Together let’s make a just society and start with the schools,” he said. Those in the audience stood and applauded. The SRC chairman, James Nevels, quickly adjourned the meeting.

Philadelphians United to Support Public Schools, a coalition of 30 organizations, held a press conference and protest in front of the school district’s administration building on April 16.

The author can be reached at phillyrose1@earthlink.net

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