Parents challenge ‘functional’ schools with court action

schools rally philadelphia
A rally in May outside the School District headquarters called for a halt to budget cuts.
Credit: Rikard Larma/Metro

In advance of the opening Monday of Philadelphia public schools, a group of parents is meeting with attorneys from the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia to file legal complaints with the state department of education.

“The state constitution mandates a ‘thorough and efficient level of education,’ so that’s what we’re challenging,” said Helen Gym of Parents United for Public Education, herself mother to three students.

“We don’t even need to use our words. The superintendent himself a week and a half ago said he only has enough resources to open ‘functional’ types of schools – that’s exactly what his words were. And as a parent, that’s just unimaginable.”

Gym said stakeholders are just now starting to find out what the so-called “functional” schools will mean for the 138,000 students returning to classes Monday.

She said parents at recent meetings have reported massive overcrowding, with as many as 45 students per classroom, as well as merging grade levels due to teacher shortages.

“We did those policies back in the ’90s and they were terrible for children and widely recognized as terrible,” Gym said.

“But they’re back, inconceivably, and without anybody being informed of why or how they’re pedagogically justified.”

With the layoffs of nearly 3,000 school district personnel, libraries are being shuttered and extracurriculars axed.

“My daughter lost her music teacher, cross country coach, her dean and her guidance counselor,” Gym said.

Adding to the complexity, officials are engaged in a complicated tangle of legislative funding packages and contract negotiations involving the city and state legislatures, the state-run School District of Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers union.

Gym said such leaders have “completely and utterly” failed city schools.

“We’re at a time for all this ridiculous stuff that our elected leaders are engaged in right now – all that pettiness, being upset about YouTube videos – that needs to stop,” she said.

“Everyone needs to focus on making sure schools are open and ready – and they’re not right now.”

Gym said parents are attempting to manage the uncertainties but remain concerned their children may not even make it to school safely.

“The School District is probably undergoing the most massive school mergers the city’s ever seen – they closed down 24 schools in the spring,” she said.

“They’ll be moving 7,000 to 8,000 children across unfamiliar neighborhoods into places they don’t even know, and nobody has a plan for that – nobody. … I don’t think the district even understands what’s going to happen Monday – that’s how bad it is.”

Gym said it’s time for parents, students and educators to take matters into their own hands, which is why she hopes to see the complaints move forward by Monday.

“We have tried and we have waited and we have fervently believed [the school funding crisis] wasn’t because of absolute negligence, maliciousness or sheer incompetence, but that’s where we’re at right now,” she said.

“Someone’s got to wake up to fact that what’s happening in Philadelphia is absolutely unconscionable. Meetings, press conferences and marches are not doing it, so we’ve got to look at something else.”

The legal filings will be discussed in more detail at a Sept. 5 meeting held by Parents United for Public Education and the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, slated for 5:30-7 p.m. at the United Way Building, located at 17th Street and Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

By the numbers

When schools open Monday, they will have:

1 nurse for every 1,500 students
1 assistant principal, if the school has more than 850 students, and almost no administrative support if the school has fewer students
0 librarians
0 full-time guidance counselors if the school has fewer than 600 students, meaning about 60 percent of schools will have no counselors



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
Local

MTA fares still increasing 4 percent in newly…

The agency said the 4 percent increases, previously announced in December, will remain steady even as the MTA deals with increasing labor costs.

Local

De Blasio, Bratton defend city's efforts after Eric…

Mayor Bill de Blasio justified the city's response to the death of Eric Garner, a Staten Island man who died while in police custody earlier this month.

Local

NYPD: Suspect dead after two U.S. Marshals, cop…

A suspected sex offender died after a shooting at a West Village smoke shop that wounded two U.S. Marshals and an NYPD detective on Monday, officials said.

National

PHOTO: New Zealand Heral uses wrong image to…

The New Zealand Herald made a terrible mistake of using the wrong image to illustrate the tragic death of Staff Sergeant Guy Boyland – a New Zealand-born Israeli soldier who…

Movies

'Get on Up' producer Mick Jagger on the…

Mick Jagger, a producer on the James Brown biopic "Get on Up," talks about the time had to tell the singer some bad news and his favorite JB record.

Television

'Glee' star Lea Michele to appear on 'Sons…

"Glee" star Lea Michele has been confirmed as a guest star in the final season of "Sons of Anarchy."

Television

TV watch list, Monday, July 28: 'The Bachelorette'…

See Andi Dorfman make her big choice on tonight's 'Bachelorette' finale.

Entertainment

'Kim Kardashian: Hollywood' game easter eggs and cheats

"Kim Kardashian: Hollywood" is the hottest game of the moment. Here are its best easter eggs as well as some tips and tricks to speed your way to the top.

NFL

Computer to Jets: Start Michael Vick over Geno…

Jets general manager John Idzik says the choice of who starts between second-year quarterback Geno Smith and veteran Michael Vick will be a “Jets decision.”

MLB

Yankees looking to trade for Josh Willingham: Report

CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reported Sunday the Yankees are interested in Twins outfielder Josh Willingham.

MLB

Joe Torre: I'm in Hall of Fame because…

Joe Torre spent 18 years putting together a near Hall of Fame career as a player. But it was the 12 years he spent as…

MLB

Yankees GM Brian Cashman breaks down art of…

The action frequently accelerates as the non-waiver trade deadline approaches, as it will on Thursday.

Education

Babson College tops list of best colleges for…

Money magazine has just released its inaugural list of "The Best Colleges for Your Money" -- and the answers have surprised many. Babson College, which…

Education

NYC teens learn how to develop apps during…

Through a program sponsored by CampInteractive, the high schoolers designed their own community-focused apps.

Tech

The Ministry of Silly Walks app is both…

Monty Python have dug into their back catalogue for cash-ins once more, but with the Ministry of Silly Walks app, they've made something that's fun too.

Food

Zagat releases '30 Under 30' list

Zagat releases a list of the people changing the food and drink industry across the country.