Protesting classroom cuts, 100 students march to Philly district headquarters

 CAPA ninth-grader Jonah Rose ('No If's'), CAPA senior Elizabeth Gargiullo  (Education is our right), and ninth-grader Sophia Wharton (yellow sign) protest the resource deficiencies in Philadelphia schools. (Kevin McCorry/WHYY)

CAPA ninth-grader Jonah Rose ('No If's'), CAPA senior Elizabeth Gargiullo (Education is our right), and ninth-grader Sophia Wharton (yellow sign) protest the resource deficiencies in Philadelphia schools. (Kevin McCorry/WHYY)

More than 100 Philadelphia School District high school students cut classes Thursday morning to protest a lack of resources in their classrooms.

Students first took to the streets outside of their respective schools – mainly the city’s elite magnet options – in an attempt to convince classmates to join them.

From there, a mass of students chanting and carrying signs gathered at City Hall and then marched north on Broad Street toward district headquarters.

By noon, the sidewalk in front of 440 N. Broad St. was packed with high-schoolers who say that city residents need to be more up in arms about cuts made to classrooms in recent years.

“They’re just being complacent about it. Just because nothing has changed, doesn’t mean that things are getting better,” said Creative and Performing Arts senior Cy Wolfe, one of the event’s organizers,

Wolfe says Harrisburg isn’t the only entity to blame for the city’s school funding woes.

“A lot of the situation is happening in Harrisburg, but the fight is still occurring here in Philadelphia,” he said. “The SRC and Superintendent [William] Hite are still trying to close schools and meanwhile spending money to open new ones and charter schools as well. So there is something that could be done here in Philadelphia.”

Wolfe referred to Hite’s recent proposal to close, open and convert schools that he says will ultimately lead to better outcomes for 5,000 of the city’s neediest children. The plan, though, will cost up to $15 million that could be directed into the district’s existing options.

Science Leadership Academy junior Arianna Haven took the district to task for outsourcing substitute teaching services – a move that’s, so far, been a major disappointment.

“We have classes without our teachers because they are absent, and so other teachers lose their prep periods because they have to cover our classes, which is not fair to the teachers, and not fair to the students because then our teachers are not as prepared as they should be,” said Haven.

Source 4 Teachers, the private substitute provider, promised a 90 percent fill rate for teacher absences. In the first week of school, the rate sat at 11 percent. Now, it’s ticked up to 22 percent.

The students ended the protest shortly after noon to get back to school by 1 p.m. and be counted as present for a half day.

A district spokesman said leaders agree with the students’ central premise: that additional funding and better schools are needed.

Thursday’s protest marked the anniversary of a student protest last year to decry the School Reform Commission’s vote to unilaterally cancel the district’s contract with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers.

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