The “Poor People’s Campaign and its connection to local control 50 years later

MLK Day Speech, Kendra Brooks

Prepared for POWER’s A People’s Call to Action

January 15, 2018


Four years ago, my community won a fight for public education in this city. This was a fight between the haves and the have-nots for control of a community treasure — a “school”– Edward T. Steel school. Since then, it has become my mission to continue to educate myself and other parents and fight until all of our children have quality education in our neighborhoods.  Today, as we celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. King, we can no longer be quiet — we must ORGANIZE. Fifty years after the launch of the Poor People’s Campaign, we are still fighting injustice at the hands of the government and corporations against the poor. We still need dignified education, housing, jobs, and healthcare.

Dr. King said, “The only real revolutionary, people say, is a man who has nothing to lose. There are millions of poor people in this country who have very little, or even nothing, to lose. If they can be helped to take action together, they will do so with a freedom and a power that will be a new and unsettling force in our complacent national life.” The Trumpet of Conscience, 1967

We the people, in the poorest big city in America, have nothing to lose! And we must help each other to take action together. In the City of Brotherly Love there has been a decades-long intentional defunding of public education affecting the most vulnerable children in our city and still, some chose to stay silent while the powers-that-be closed schools in primarily poor, black and brown communities leaving blight – “the new phase of redlining” – to usher in gentrification and the displacement of families again in the name of reform and redevelopment. As we enter the final months of the state-controlled School Reform Commission, We the people, call for A People’s School Board that instead reflects the true stakeholders and diversity of our schools

In a city where the essential needs of children are put second to militarism and policing in schools; Where we add more police and eliminate social workers, counselors, and nurses. We the people call for a People’s School Board to challenge the district for staffing eliminations that cost a child’s life. We the people call for a People’s School Board to demand city and state government to fund the restoration or replacement of school buildings that are contaminated with lead, mold and asbestos or are falling apart and stay silent while they build more prisons.  

WE the people Call for a People’s School Board – ready to fight for fair funding, for an end to the school to prison pipeline, and for teacher of color recruitment efforts. 

In a city where corporations have turned our schools into condos, recreation resorts, investments hubs and training camps for industry but refuse to pay their fair share in taxes to support our children’s academic enrichment that includes critical thinking, problem solving, and culturally relevant curriculum. Where taxing the poor and working class has become common practice and the rich or top earners receive tax cuts and abatements. Where the local pay-to-play $100k deficit outweighs the much needed debate about funding both local and state to end the education gap between the rich and poor.  WE the people call for – A People’s School Board free of conflicts of interest and monetary gains.


This is a call to action! What are you doing with your POWER ?


Join us – I charge you to call for The People’s School Board.  Nothing about us without us!

Statement on the Dissolution of the School Reform Commission


Parents United for Public Education celebrates Mayor Kenney’s announcement that the School Reform Commission will dissolve, returning our public schools to local control. We applaud the Mayor for joining grassroots parents, students, and teachers of Philadelphia by standing on the right side of history.

This is a historic victory for the wellbeing and dignity of our children, families, and communities. We’ve proven that an independent, organized and engaged set of parents can win victories like the one we’re witnessing here today.

Parents United for Public Education, a proud coalition member of the Our City, Our Schools campaign, has spent many years organizing for this moment. We believe this is a powerful step in a positive direction towards true community control of our schools.

This moment comes after 16 years of passionate organizing and community action to shine a light on the failures of the state-takeover of the Philadelphia School District. We’re committed to repair the harm the School Reform Commission has caused by pressing towards an elected school board in Philadelphia. Just like every other county and school district in Pennsylvania, Philadelphians deserve to democratically elect the governing body of our children’s education.  

Parents United calls on the next local school board to stand with us to unapologetically fight for funding equity and restored life-affirming staff and programs in our schools. We call on the next local school board to take a clear stand against a privatization agenda where wealthy interests capitalize on our youth, our parents, and our communities. We call for a People’s Board.


Philadelphia’s Filthy Schools Continue

Philadelphia public schools have a long history of neglected hazards and deferred maintenance.  For many years Philadelphia’s school children have had to exist and try to learn in conditions where the air is contaminated with mold spores, water fountains are lead contaminated, schools are unable to control the internal temperatures, asbestos exposures and rodent infestation issues. Two weeks ago we saw how another district, Monroe County, NJ answered the calls of concerns of parents and staff by closing Holly Glen Elementary for mold remediation in response to high mold results on October 4th. Three days later, and simply as a precaution!  all Monroe Township schools were closed for mold inspection and remediation.  They remain closed 2 weeks later to allow for a comprehensive assessment to be completed.

In addition, on October 11th, John B. Kelly Elementary school was closed to an emergent mold issue spanning 10 classrooms – for 600 square feet of mold growth. The scope of the mold contamination rapidly expanded to include some 3 dozen areas, and about 1000 feet of mold and impacts on asbestos materials and major ventilation concerns. Only the advocacy and push from educational staff and the teacher’s union prompted district officials to close the Germantown school for immediate remediation. Parents and staff recall the issues with mold at Kelly to be present between 1-2 years.  Parents report their children suffer sicknesses, asthma attacks, and upper respiratory infections similar to those reported by parents in Monroe twp.

711368104482106532-kelly-leaky-roof.fullAffected room as seen last Spring. The trash cans have been collecting what is leaking from the above pipes. Photo Credit: Greg Windle

There have been similar conditions at many other Philadelphia public schools. So, we have some questions for Philadelphia School District officials. This past summer, Munoz-Marin, Steel, Clemente, and Hunter had extensive mold remediation projects. What about the conditions at Kelly were not deemed bad enough to fix over the Summer, but necessary to close during the school year?  How many more schools are in the same condition as Kelly, but have not risen to the level of action by the district? If the conditions at those four schools were also a long standing issue, then why weren’t those schools closed for immediate remediation when the issues were first acknowledged?  In addition to mold, our students, teachers, and school staff are exposed to lead in paint and drinking water, asbestos, rodent and pest infestations, and lack of proper climate control within our school buildings.

One thing that parents in Monroe twp have to help them understand the issues at their schools is the actual Indoor Air Quality report for Holly Glen Elementary, which identifies the classrooms, the contamination, and problem analysis. The report includes pictures of the affected areas and damage.  In contrast, it is not currently possible for a parent to obtain the Indoor Air Quality test results or report of their child’s school in Philadelphia public. Unfortunately there is an enormous amount of data that is unavailable to an informed public with regard to Philadelphia public schools. The lack of information only leads to more questions:

  • How do we know how significant the damage was/is in the district’s schools? We don’t?
  • Is the damage here worse than in Monroe Twp schools? We don’t know?
  • Are our children at any greater risk by having them continue in school buildings with these conditions? We don’t know.
  • What is the district’s plan to avoid the situation in the future? We don’t know.
  • Are there any other schools that have similar conditions? We don’t know.
  • What were the specific conditions that highlighted the 4 schools for mold remediation and the 5 for asbestos abatement this past Summer? We don’t know.
  • Was the work done this Summer done correctly to ensure our children’ health and safety? We don’t know.
  • Was the money used to remediate mold and asbestos spent responsibly? We don’t know.

A high level of transparency is essential in getting our children the clean, warm, nurturing classrooms and schools that they deserve. To date, we have not had the level of assistance or transparency from the district that would allow parents to feel that our children are well taken care of in their school buildings.  

Sometimes things don’t change is because no one is willing to learn from the problem to make different choices.  

We are trying to make a change in the way the school district maintains and improves its school buildings. The Philly Healthy Schools Initiative is working towards: improving the amount of information and data transparency from the district, establishing an adequate building conditions and best practices to ensure a healthy learning environment, identifying and addressing the most critical health and safety priorities, and establishing a stakeholder advisory committee.   Our goal is to work with the district to achieve the clean, safe, warm, nurturing environment that the district states as its standard.  

We Can & We Must Do Better.

How you can help:

  • Parents and teachers collaborate to identify and report facility conditions that are unhealthy and unsafe. Teacher reports to the principal need to be carried up to the union.
  • Go into your child’s school. Visit their classrooms, and yes, the bathrooms. Look at the ceiling tiles, walls, flooring. Notice odors, pests and their waste. If there is anything that concerns you, tell the principal. Parents should also make a note of their concerns to make follow up easier. 
  • Read the Facility Condition Assessment for your child’s school. It can be found on the district website. All schools were assessed in 2015. It gives a snapshot of the school’s condition and a priority list of issues.
  • Contact us at
  • Contact Philly Healthy Schools Initiative for more information. David Masur:


Call to Action: Did your child experience significant teacher vacancies during 2015-16/ 2016-17 school years? Public Interest Law Center would like to speak with you.

The Law Center is interested in speaking with parents/guardians whose children were enrolled in the School District of Philadelphia during the 2015-2016/2016-2017 school years in special education programs that experienced significant teacher vacancies (List of Schools for Plaintiff identification purposes) and who were not granted compensatory education related to those vacancies.
This may include, but is not limited to, children who:
  • had a long-term substitute teacher (or other school personnel such as counselors or non-teaching school staff) for their special education services; or
  • experienced multiple substitutes (or other school personnel such as counselors or non-teaching school staff) to address special education teacher vacancies; or
  • experienced significantly increased special education class size because one special education classroom was combined with another classroom.
We are especially interested in identifying children in the School District of Philadelphia who were enrolled in special education programs who: (1) experienced teacher vacancies during the 2015-2016 or 2016-2017 school years and (2) –
  • Did not have IEP team meetings; or
  • Did not receive any progress reports (as opposed to report cards); or
  • Did not receive the services mandated in their IEP; or
  • Made no meaningful progress or even regressed.
Please have those who are interested e-mail the Law Center at or call (267) 546-1313

The Aftermath: Time for an Emergency Procedure policy

This past May, there was a horrific bus accident involving eighth grade students, staff and parents of Charles W. Henry Elementary school. All 30 passengers and driver were injured when a car collided with the charter bus and eventually overturned on I-95.

It is understood that this was indeed an accident. However, everything that is done in the aftermath has to be intentional.

It was immediately noticed that the district did not have a plan to proceed with this type of emergency. Though a crisis team was sent to the school by the district, it was clear that there were minimal questions that would be answered. Parents and community members were roughly handled by this team, leaving most people extremely frustrated. Once the immediate effects of the accident had cleared, parents were faced with continued inability to get necessary information from the school administration, district administration, vehicle insurers, etc.

“While the immediate response of getting passengers triaged was difficult, once the dust settled the next day there was no word on how the PSD was going to help parents move forward with post accident support.” Linda Gordy, grandparent of former 8th grade Henry student 

It is understandable that there is a legal need to maintain a level of control at the school and district level. However, everything was flipped for students and their parents who now had broken bones, head and spinal injuries, laceration, and emotional trauma. Information was needed to assure than children would be able to continue medical, surgical, and psychological follow ups. Many children were unable to return to school due to lack of accessibility. It took 3 weeks for children to regain access to their education at home. When parents tried to figure out what the procedures are for their questions, they realized that Philadelphia school district has no emergency procedure policy for field trips. They were left to call one department after another to try to find someone who could accurately answer their questions and address their concerns. Many found it extremely difficult to navigate the system at 440 and resorted to obtaining their own legal assistance.

After the May 15th accident, parents were stressed with the primary concern being the well-being of their children; helping them walk, helping them remember, helping them feel safe.  The district made it clear that they could not provide legal advice, but they were unclear on what they could provide.  Parents should not have had to ask for accident reports, insurance, & driver info,  The school’s answer to “how will my child receive instruction when they can’t access the building?” shouldn’t be – “We’ll figure it out.”” Stephanie Clark, parent of former 8th grade student

In addition, it was extremely difficult to gain answers to how any existing safety plan information (Policy 705) would be accurately and comprehensively communicated to parents and guardians. We are still unclear of how safety information would be exchanged with students who have little to no verbal ability.

“Ms. Burns stated that the district has shared ownership with principals for implementing the safety policy.  In response to a parent’s question as to how information will be given to non-verbal students or students in need of other learning supports, Dr. Kolsky stated that the school safety team would be involved and that the information would be documented at the school level and kept in a safety binder as well as being discussed at Back to School Night.  I agree that these should be the proper protocols but what if that doesn’t happen at the school level?  How would you, the SRC, know based on these upper level administration responses whether parents have truly been informed?” Jennifer Aiello, parent of Henry students

At this time, there is still no policy in place or actively developed to ensure that the many mistakes made during the aftermath of this accident are not repeated.

Since May, parents have been testifying before the SRC to highlight the need of such a policy.

Linda Gordy,  (Grandmother of former 8th grade Henry student) testimony May 2017 : I-95 Bus Accident Lessons Learned May

Stephanie Clark (Mother of former 8th grade Henry student) testimony May and July 2017: SRC Board Meeting – 20170706

Jenny Aiello (Parent, Henry students) testimony:  June 2017 SRC comments June 15 2017

Robin Roberts (Parent, former 6th grade Henry student) testimony: July 2017 Emergency Procedure Policy testimony july 6

We are working with parents and community members to help the district develop an emergency procedure policy for field trips.

It is important that this policy incorporates:

  • A current contact list of the departments, point person, email addresses, and telephone numbers.
  • District sponsored services – like enhanced counseling or school based therapy services for students involved: duration, scope, and follow-up.
  • Documentation needed for children to return to class and school. Including an explanation of why this information in required.
  •  Plan to getting children back to education.
  • Use of alternate bus companies when an injury causing accident occurs.
  • Parent Involvement in selecting preferred supplier esp. for charter companies.

It is imperative to develop an emergency procedure policy for field trips.

“The children, staff, and parents have suffered through a catastrophic accident. Regardless, everything that happened after that had to be deliberate and purposeful. Corrective measures are necessary. If not, what child are you willing to offer up next time.” Robin Roberts, parent of former 6th grade Henry Student.