On the week of March 5th, a letter from the Superintendent of the Philadelphia School District, Dr. William Hite, was circulated to all district principals and many charter schools as well. While the letter starts off in support of the youth-led walkouts scheduled for the city on March 14th, it quickly shifts tone and states that students are only allowed to participate in the walkout for 17 minutes. Student youth leaders from Juntos and The Philadelphia Student Union wrote the following letter in response.
“To Dr. William Hite and Philadelphia School Principals,
It has come to our attention that a letter was circulated last week to principals from the School District of Philadelphia and many charter schools as well, stating that the School District of Philadelphia was in support of the youth-led walkouts planned for Wednesday March 14th. In this letter, there was initial support for youth-led activism and organizing but then quickly the letter shifts tone and states that students are only allowed to partake in the walkout for 17 minutes. We, the students, are extremely disappointed by the restrictions that our district and school leadership is placing on our right to protest and demand change.
We are in solidarity with the students of Florida and understand the significance of the 17 minute walkout and we also believe we must have space to talk about the changes needed in Philadelphia to truly ensure our schools are safe. For us safe schools mean more than just gun regulations. Safety for us means hiring more counselors and social workers instead of cops, decreasing the criminalization of black and brown young people and setting up restorative justice practices to replace the zero tolerance policies that govern us on the daily. Now is the time for leadership that looks to be creative in establishing safety in our schools and we hoped that this would be a moment where we could work together towards this vision. This is why we have chosen to come together as one outside of the School District Headquarters and march towards City Hall. The work to improve school safety is more than 17 minutes and more than a march but the opportunity to stand side by side with other students, parents, teachers and allies in a step towards what we need to do more of in this city. We feel that by limiting us to only 17 minutes, our voices are actively being silenced. This is not real support as was communicated in the Philadelphia Inquirer. The opportunity to write essays or letters is important but does not actually show solidarity nor is it enough to lead to real change. It should not be offered as an option on a day when thousands of students across the country will be demonstrating to highlight an issue important to all of us. Saying you respect our right to protest while penalizing students who march beyond those 17 minutes is not support. Threatening students with 0’s on tests if they march is not support.
March 14th will be an important day to be remembered. Do you all want to be known as leaders who supported our voices or the ones held us back from our vision? If you want to support us fully, then you should allow us to march without being penalized for the full day.”
Academy of Polumbo
West Philadelphia HS
Washington-Vare Middle School
Furness High School
High School of Creative and Performing Arts
Mastery HS-Thomas Campus
Franklin Learning Center
Philadelphia Student Union