It was an honor to speak for the clients of PILCOP during their Annual Gala – A Celebration of Civil Rights. The work that is being done here is vital to ensuring civil rights are being addressed, inequities corrected, and inclusion for all. Here are my remarks:
Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you at your magnificent gala.
As Amy Laura mentioned, I am the mom to three fantastically smart, active, and independent children who attend Philadelphia public schools. My husband, Curtis, and I are transplants from Missouri and are public school graduates.
My story begins 9 years ago, when my oldest started 1st grade. We did our research, met with the school principal, asked a lot of questions, and sent him on to our neighborhood school. After our initial anxiety, what we found were experienced dedicated teachers, a library, knowledgeable and caring counselor, and nurse. Our school had support people in the security guard and classroom assistants, like my mom used to be. My son experienced a vibrant rich environment which included Art, Music, gifted support, books, after school extracurricular and tutoring programs.
Then came the 2011-12 budget crisis. The School District of Philadelphia which educated just 10% of the state’s children, suffered 1/3 the cuts totaling 300 million dollars. The lack of funding and the inability of the city and district to close the gap led to teacher and staff layoffs, cuts to essential services like guidance counselors and nurses, the elimination of art, music, and sports programs, school closures, and shuffled children. Each year, there are more cuts to services and staff, more elimination of essential services and extracurricular programs, more holes in the net that supports all of our children.
This is when I moved from an active parent to an activist. Education is so vitally important to provide more equality and the opportunity for all to pursue their happiness. Access to high quality education can close the gaps in society that perpetuates poverty, denies advancement, and limits future opportunities. When you see what is happening to the educational process in these buildings, you have a choice to stand up or to look the other way. I speak up not just for my children, but for all of them. To deny children an adequate public education speaks volumes of what our society is destined to become. Parents, teachers, and staff see what is going on every day in our schools. Through the collaboration of PILCOP and Parents United for Education, we were able to activate parents to fight for the state mandated “thorough and efficient” public education mandate in the state constitution by filing deficiency complaints to the Pa. Department of Education. There were a total of 825 complaints filed in 6 months from Philadelphia’s school district. This is more than the office had previously received statewide in a full year.
I filed two complaints that are a part of this suit against the PA Dept. of Education. I have a son with a gifted Individualized Educational Plan. This plan legally dictates what is required to maximize his learning experience. He had zero opportunity to learn at this higher level in school after the district canceled gifted support classes. This educational system is not addressing any of these students’ mandated needs.
The second complaint was more significant and directly due to staffing cuts. Teachers at our school were told to toilet the K-3 grade children as a class group. This had to be done because there were no additional personnel to monitor the halls or bathrooms to ensure that children were safe. Also, it was found that some of the bathrooms were locked because they were in need of cleaning or maintenance. Or that they were clean, but staff did not want them to be dirtied. This led to whole classrooms walking to other areas of the school building to use open and available facilities which at times were not clean.
Either way, children from 5-8 years old had to wait until it was their class time to go to the bathroom. Some did not make it. This practice was a huge burden on teachers with decreased instructional time, interruption of other classes in session. Not to mention the psyche of our youngest students.
When I sent my complaints to Department of Education nothing happened. No investigation, zero follow-up. It was like they fell into a black hole. I did not know the next steps, if any, to take.
I am grateful that the Law Center has taken up this fight to get answers and justified investigation of the issues raised during the complaint process. And, hold those heading the Department of Education to some level of accountability.
Parents would have no other recourse to address the problems seen in our schools and the decimation of education without the expertise and dedication of PILCOP.
It is unfortunate that we have to resort to legal measures; however I am grateful that the Law Center is here to navigate this process and address the serious deficits that are present in nearly all Philadelphia public schools.
Their work is invaluable to give parents voice and action for their children. I am thankful that the Public Interest Law Center has been here to ensure that we can achieve the next level of progress – even for wayward souls, like myself, who chose a career in healthcare instead of law.
So, I truly thank Amy Laura, Ben, Michael, Barbara, and the entire staff at Public Interest Law Center.