Philadelphia to close 23 public schools; Randi Weingarten arrested at protest (update)

Randi Weingarten being put under arrest. (Photo By Helen Gym)
Randi Weingarten being put under arrest. (Photo By Helen Gym)

(Update: Adding vote by School Reform Commission to close schools plus video of Weingarten arrest)

The Philadelphia School Reform Commission voted tonight to close 23 public schools at a meeting where American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten was arrested along with 18 other activists during a protest at the entrance to the hearing. Four schools originally slated to be closed were given a reprieve and will stay open.

Weingarten, who runs the second largest teachers union in the country, and the other activists were protesting and blocking the entrance to the room where the hearing was being held. Weingarten sent text messages to colleagues saying she was placed in handcuffs and arrested.

“When you’ve exhausted all the legal remedies and none of the powers that be will listen to you, then you’re forced to take actions which may lead to an arrest,” she said in a text. About the closing schools, she said, “It will cost more to close these schools — $25 million — than it will to keep them open, $24 million.”

The School Reform Commission voted on a highly controversial proposal to close nearly 30 poorly performing public schools as part of an effort that officials say will save money and help students achieve better at other schools. Researchers, however, told city officials at earlier meetings that  school closings often don’t save money — in fact, one wave of school closings in Washington, D.C., by former chancellor Michelle Rhee, wound up costing the city millions of dollars — and students generally don’t do better in other schools. (You can read about the effects of closings here.)

Numerous speakers appeared athe hearing, according to Kristen Graham who is live blogging the meeting for phillie.com. Graham said Weingarten had been scheduled to testify at the hearing.

Weingarten gave a speech to the crowd before her arrest, Graham said. The Huffington Post said that an AFT spokesman quoted Weingarten as saying in her speech: “Kids have suffered cut after cuts. The powers that be don’t care about opportunity for children.”

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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Valerie Strauss | March 7, 2013