A resolution introduced by Councilwoman Jannie L. Blackwell, seeking a moratorium on the public school closings proposal, passed in city council, 15-2.
Written in response to city-wide protests and concerns about the proposed 37 schools in Philadelphia scheduled to close this year, the resolution would allow time to reassess the plans of the School Reform Commission (SRC) in addition to giving community residents and groups an opportunity to come up with plans of their own.
During an interview, Blackwell said she has reached out to numerous groups, community residents and members of various unions, most of whom requested a moratorium on the closings although acknowledging that some schools will undoubtedly have to close.
“We are not saying that the moratorium should last a year, but that it should last long enough for all sides to work out a plan that is feasible and plausible for the community and school district employees,” Blackwell said.
Blackwell, who has served more than three decades in office, said this was the only time she has ever witnessed such a student-led protest as she did with the issue of school closings.
Parents and teachers have also been outspoken in large numbers, according to Blackwell.
“We have teachers, vice principals and principals who are standing up and who are not afraid to put their jobs in jeopardy to stand up,” she said.
Of the hundred or so groups and organizations fighting the school closing plans, 23 of them are in Blackwell’s district of West and Southwest Philadelphia.
“This is a plan that didn’t seem to be worked out with any inclusion of the community or community groups, nor with a whole lot of common sense,” said Blackwell about the selection of schools to be closed.
Blackwell said the current plan didn’t seem to take into account which educational programs worked or didn’t work, distance from schools or the safety of children that would have to travel those distances everyday.
“It just didn’t seem to make a lot of sense to me,” she said.
The two council members who opposed the resolution were Councilman Bill Green and Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sanchez.
“They [Green and Sanchez] spoke out and vociferously tried to fight against it,” Blackwell said. “They basically said the school district knows what it is doing and has a right to make these decisions and that we shouldn’t tell them what to do.”
According to Blackwell, the move is ridiculous considering that it is taxpayers who pay the SRC and should therefore be a part of such decisions.
So what does the resolution mean?
“The impact that it will have is that we are all going to come together and we will have a press conference to state again that we are against these school closings,” Blackwell said. “It will also have an affect on February 12th when we have our hearings that the SRC and the superintendent will have to introduce their plan and try to make some sense of this.”
Blackwell said if the SRC would have gone to the community before developing a plan and not afterwards, things might have been different.
“Now the pressure is on them to try to come up with issues and a plan that makes sense to the people,” she said.
School district officials have not commented on the resolution.