More than 500 teachers, parents and community members demonstrated outside Philadelphia School District headquarters Friday afternoon, demanding officials give them more of a role in reforming their schools.
Gathered in the bitter windy cold, the protesters also lambasted efforts to intimidate students and punish teachers for speaking out.
The crowd chanted slogans like "We Deserve a Choice, and We Deserve a Voice" and "More Collaboration! No Intimidation!"
Tensions have been running high since the district announced its "Renaissance School" initiative - plans to overhaul 18 schools it says have failed students for years. Some will be given to charter organizations and others revamped by the district, but with longer school days and years and a new faculty.
In the past weeks, students at West Philadelphia, Audenried and Martin Luther King Highs have held demonstrations protesting the district's turnaround plans for their schools. Each group said they objected to the district imposing change on their school without consulting the community.
Audenried teacher Hope Moffett, an outspoken critic of the Renaissance plan, has also been exiled to an empty administrative office - the so-called "Rubber Room," an act that has drawn widespread criticism from the community.
Moffett is being accused of "endangering the welfare and safety of children," but she's also in hot water for the disclosure of her removal from the classroom. District officials told her she could not discuss her ouster.
The district has said Moffett had been using class time in appropriate ways.
The third-year English teacher has had to report to a basement office since last Thursday. She says she has done nothing wrong.
Moffett drew the loudest applause at the rally.
"Students at Audenried, like students at many of the schools are advocating for themselves," she said. "And the students at Audenried not only walked out of the building, they came downtown and picketed until the district came out."
Moffett said the students were frustrated because they had been taught to back up decisions with data and the district refused to provide that data to support the decision to turn Audenried over to Universal.
One of her students, Maurice Johnson, 18, said the district could not explain how it could label their school as "failing." Audenried has only been open two years and this year's juniors will be the first to take the state's standardized tests.
"We demand to know what's really going on!" he shouted.
Moffett's exile has drawn the ire of Philadelphia Federation of Teachers president Jerry Jordan, who has personally involved himself in her case.
Jordan did not attend the rally, but sent a statement saying he would continue to support every teacher's right to speak out.
In a statement, spokeswoman Shana Kemp said that officials "understand that emotions are running high in the face of some of the changes being made to the operation of our schools, but we are confident that the positive results generated after implementation will be met with welcome."
Protesters said their involvement has been only symbolic.