Four parents and school staff members began a fast Monday under a tent outside Gov. Corbett's Philadelphia office to advocate for safe schools.
The fast, which started about 11 a.m., began in response to the layoff of about 1,200 noontime aides. The four say they will sit under the tent outside 200 S. Broad St. during the day and forgo all food and drinks, save water, until the city's schools are fully funded and the laid-off staffers are rehired. There is no set end date.
"Without a safe environment, students can't learn," fast participant Earlene Bly said. Bly has a daughter, Charnae, just finishing ninth grade at Roxborough High School and a grandson about to enter elementary school.
The aides are the ones who keep the peace, she added. "Children are most vulnerable outside the classroom."
Patricia Norris, a food-service worker at Cayuga Elementary School who is also fasting, has seen the difference that the noontime aides make. They don't just wipe tables, she said. They know the kids since kindergarten and keep them safe, supervising them when their teachers aren't around.
"How can you get rid of student safety?" she said, holding up her hands in despair.
The fast began with a prayer circle that included the Rev. Robin Hynicka and Bishop Dwayne Royster of the interfaith organizing group POWER.
"This is a historic action that speaks volumes in the face of oppression and political indifference," Hynicka said. His church, Arch Street United Methodist, is housing the four at night.
Michael Mullins is fasting for the safety of his sons, who will enter second grade and kindergarten at the Penn Alexander School next year. "My first wish for my sons is that they be safe," he said. "I'm angry that the city and state got their priorities so wrong."
His wife and extended family are caring for his sons while he fasts. "I said bye to the kids this morning, and they asked if I'd be OK," Mullins said. "I said I believe - I know - I will."
Marcia Teagle, a food service worker at Julia deBurgos School, said she was nervous about the fast. "It's a might move," Teagle said. She had a bandage on the inside of her elbow from the blood work she and the others had done in the morning. Volunteer nurses will check on them twice a day.
"I just hope the governor and the city take what we're doing seriously," Bly said.