MORE THAN 70 people signed up to air their grievances at the School Reform Commission meeting Thursday night, an unusually high number reflective of the controversy surrounding the district's decision to close 37 schools.
Before they were given the opportunity to speak, protesters forced the SRC to rush through its agenda as several students, school faculty and parents repeatedly interrupted the proceedings.
"You're here to talk about buildings; we're here to talk about education," Pedro Ramos, SRC chairman, said as he urged the audience to simmer down.
Chants of "save our schools" and "we will fight" drowned out a career- and technical-education speaker. Later, when commission members decided not to renew the charter of Community Academy Charter School, the anti-school-closure crowd applauded.
"If you stopped selling our schools to charters, we wouldn't be here," Danita Bates, a parent who repeatedly called for a moratorium on school closures.
"We will be two schools with one budget," said Totiana Myers, who attends Paul Robeson High. She argued that merging Robeson with Sayre High would worsen the problem of insufficient resources in the schools. The schools are in West Philadelphia.
Myers said that many Robeson students would rather be home-schooled or transfer than attend Sayre. She noted that Sayre had more violent incidents than Robeson last year.
Sayre was removed from the state's list of persistently dangerous schools in September.
Other students appealed to the safe, family-like environment of their schools to persuade the commission.
"Teachers are my second parents," said Korey Parrot, a seventh-grader at Fairhill Elementary. "If you close Fairhill, you will be making a big mistake."
Dennis Dorfman is a counselor at the AMY at James Martin School (grades six through eight) in Port Richmond. The school could be moving into Penn Treaty Middle School's building in Fishtown, but Dorfman argued that the commission is disrupting their school to shore up Penn Treaty.
"Our school isn't the solution to filling that school," Dorfman said.
Fernando Gallard, a district spokesman, said the high turnout was expected. The police officers peppered throughout the auditorium attested to that expectation.
"It's a difficult choice. It's hard to hear that their school is closing," Gallard said. "We want to hear from them."
Gallard said that within two weeks, the SRC would announce community meetings that are to be held next month over school closures.