I have been a member of the Democratic party for 36 years. I joined the party to support the most vulnerable in our communities, including disadvantaged children. Yet, in the City of Brotherly Love, where the Mayor, two of three City Commissioners, and 14 out of 17 City Council members are Democrats, the only children attending school in-person, full-time are those from wealthy families or who are fortunate enough to attend private school. 

One would think that the Democrats who run the city and also claim to be focused on  children’s needs would be committed to getting all students back in school. However, that does not appear to be the case.

Even worse, School Board members are appointed by the Mayor and confirmed by City Council. So, parents who may desperately want their children back in school, have almost no hope of ensuring their voice is heard by the board. Parents in Philadelphia are essentially disenfranchised voters when it comes to education, and their children are suffering the consequences.

Parents in Philadelphia are essentially disenfranchised voters when it comes to education, and their children are suffering the consequences.

Meanwhile, in the predominantly white suburbs most school districts have reopened either for hybrid or full-time in-person instruction. A big reason is that school board members have heard directly from their constituents: Parents. Since school board members in almost every district outside of Philadelphia are elected, they’ve had some level of obligation to respond to parents’ demands.

In Philadelphia, what recourse do parents have when faced with an unresponsive school board?  Who can they hold accountable when restaurants, gyms, and sporting events are reopening, but school doors remain locked?  And why are the Mayor and City Council not prioritizing the education of almost 120,000 students in the district?

The Philadelphia School District already has an abysmal 80% high school graduation rate. Now, rates of child abuse, mental health issues, and drug use are all on the rise while students are continuing to fall behind academically due to school closures.

So, why are the Democrats who were elected to support their community and particularly their most vulnerable citizens not prioritizing getting kids back in school immediately?  One of the biggest reasons is the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. The teachers’ unions have been a huge impediment to returning children to the classroom, particularly in urban areas. And they gain their influence by contributing heavily to Democrat campaigns. 

The teachers’ unions have been a huge impediment to returning children to the classroom, particularly in urban areas. And they gain their influence by contributing heavily to Democrat campaigns. 

For example, since 2019, the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers has donated $10,000 to Governor Wolf (despite him not running for office), $32,500 to Mayor Kenney, and more than $450,000 to various other Democratic candidates and elected officials. So, the real question is: Who are the Mayor and City Council working for? Because they are evidently not working for the 120,000 students in the School District of Philadelphia.

It is time for the elected officials in Philadelphia to stand up and do the right thing for our children: Fully reopen schools for those families who want that option. It is also time to change the system of appointing School Board members and allow parents and residents to elect people who will represent their interests. 

Beth Ann Rosica, Ph.D., a parent in the West Chester Area School District and an advocate for educationally disadvantaged students across the country, has a private consulting business in the Education and Human Services field.

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