A conversation with Superintendent Arlene Ackerman

    The School District of Philadelphia’s push to fire outspoken high school English teacher Hope Moffett provoked a federal free speech lawsuit from the teachers’ union and sparked a rally that drew over 1,000 angry protesters.

    In response, during an interview yesterday, Superintendent of Schools Arlene Ackerman said, “We believe that Ms. Moffett, in her zeal to help children understand they have a right to protest, we believe she crossed the line.”

    Saying the School District felt compelled to respond to an avalanche of recent criticism, Ackerman provided an emotional account of the February morning that landed Audenried High School English teacher Hope Moffett in such trouble. 

    She said Moffett endangered the lives of her students by providing them with SEPTA tokens to leave school and attend a protest rally outside district headquarters.

    “Had you been there to feel the anxiety, had you had to listen to the principal on the other end who was beside herself because she couldn’t account for 53 of her students, you would understand how dire the situation was,” said Ackerman.

    The walkout by students at Audenried High was just one of numerous recent protests at schools slated for dramatic overhauls as part of the school district’s Renaissance initiative. 

    When asked if she thinks the protests are being driven by teachers, Ackerman said, “Absolutely. Because you know what? When we give the parents the data, and when we show parents what it can be, there’s a whole different conversation that happens. When you hear what the conversation is about, it’s not about ‘how do we change the school so these young people will get a better education?’  It’s about ‘we’re making progress’ or ‘I want to stay here with my students.'”

    Ackerman added, “Don’t hold the school back from dramatic change… in the lives of these young people.”

    She was adamant that the Moffett case and continued questions about the lack of public input into overhauling Renaissance schools will not interfere with her agenda.

    “I am totally focused on these young people, and I am not going to let adults who have their personal agendas get in the way of what I’m trying to do. This other stuff is noise,” said Ackerman. “I’m going to treat other people’s children like I wanted mine, and I’m going to fight for them like I fought for my two children. And as long as I’m fighting for these young people, they’re going to be OK.”

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