Later this week, the saga of outspoken Philadelphia high school English teacher Hope Moffett will continue in federal court. The teachers union has filed a lawsuit to halt her firing. But over the weekend, the controversy surrounding Moffett returned to where it began.
Emotions are still running high in Grays Ferry, South Philadelphia, where the School District plans to turn Audenried High over to community development organization Universal Companies to run as a charter school. On Saturday, Universal President and CEO Rahim Islam made his case to parents and students that Universal can improve both the school and the surrounding community at the same time.
“Universal Companies has a mission to improve neighborhoods and change lives, and that’s what we’re doing,” said Islam. “The bottom line, we are prepared, as challenging as it may be, to take on this responsibility of enhancing this school and to integrate this school into the community.”
Officials from Universal and the School District stressed that the voices of students, parents and community members will be critical in refining Universal’s plan for the school. But Grays Ferry resident Audrey Martin is upset that the district already made the biggest decision about Audenried’s future – turning it into a charter, which will likely mean losing most of the school’s current teachers – without community input.
“If you all make any decision, it should start with the people who live in this community,” Martin said. “We don’t want this. We want you to keep these teachers on. Because you know what, the kids are close to them, and that’s what makes a difference.”
Audenried’s future exploded into public view last month, when the School District moved English teacher Hope Moffett into so-called “teacher jail.” Now, Moffett, is slated to be fired. Anna Wiggins is one of many who have rallied to Moffet’s defense.
“Because a person gets up to speak, it doesn’t mean that they should be banned or fired because they disagree,” said Wiggins. “Something’s wrong with that. Something’s wrong with that, honey. We’re in the United States of America.”
Last Thursday, the teachers union sued to halt Moffett’s termination, claiming that the School District’s actions violated her First Amendment rights and are an attempt to intimidate all teachers. But District spokesperson Jamilah Fraser says Moffet is being fired because she put students’ lives in jeopardy when she provided them with SEPTA tokens to leave school and attend a protest rally without parental consent.
“Its not about First Amendment rights here,” said Fraser. “We had several parents who called 440 North Broad terrified that they didn’t know where their children were.”
A Federal Judge will hear arguments, likely on Wednesday, from both sides before deciding whether to grant an injunction that would put a stop to the termination proceedings. As for Audenried, officials say they will continue to hold conversations about the details of their plans, but the school’s conversion to a charter is not up for debate.