National campaign connects students on issue of school closings

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

By Charlotte Pope

Student activists brandishing coffin-shaped props rallied on the steps of the School District’s headquarters Thursday morning to protest nationwide school closings in a campaign called Journey for Justice.

Young advocates from Boston, Newark, and New York City joined members of the Philadelphia Student Union, Youth United for Change, and Action United for a news conference, and continued to Washington for a rally at the U.S. Department of Education. They demanded a meeting with President Obama.

Philadelphia is just one stop on the Journey for Justice campaign aimed to unite students across the East Coast and spread awareness of mass school closings and their impact on communities of color.

“Our goal is to get people to listen to what we have to say and understand what we’re going through,” said Alicia Duncan, a Philadelphia Student Union member and student at The Promise Academy at West Philadelphia High School.

“They’re making these decisions for us without understanding how we’re dealing with them, and how we’re being affected by them. If they actually listen, and actually understand, the School District will be much better,” she said.

Earlier this year the School Reform Commission hired the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) to help strategize how to transform the District. The SRC’s transformation blueprint called for closing up to one-fourth of the District’s schools while expanding enrollment at charters.

According to the BCG report, the District is planning to close between 29 and 57 of its 250 school buildings, with as many as 40 percent of students attending charters by 2017.

PSU reports that schools across the nation continue to be closed despite research that shows that closing schools does not improve test scores or graduation rates. Students who are participating in the Journey for Justice campaign are calling for a national moratorium on all school closings, turnarounds, and phase-outs.

“I just want the School District of Philadelphia to know that shutting down schools will not help us. I want them to stop trying to turn around schools and close schools, and actually think of the people they hurt,” Duncan said.