Philly and Georgia fight for education

Youth from the community group Juntos demonstrate inside the School District of Philadelphia during the session of the School Reform Commission.

Youth from the community group Juntos demonstrate inside the School District of Philadelphia during the session of the School Reform Commission./Erika Almirón

Even though they’re distant, both struggles aim to keep education a basic right for everybody.

The fight to keep education a human right in the United States continued this week when people in Philadelphia and Georgia rallied behind their respective causes.

In an unprecedented move, unions, activists, and community members joined forces in Philadelphia to fight the school closings proposed by the School Reform Commission, a 12-year-old body that was supposed to fix the schools in poverty-stricken Philly.

The Philadelphia Public School Notebook reported that at least 18 people were arrested after trying to impede the SRC from starting the session where the closings would be voted.

From The Notebook:

Many hundreds of protesters assembled at the District’s headquarters on North Broad Street on Thursday, rallying to spare the city’s public school system from the biggest downsizing in its history.

According to reports, 18 protesters were arrested and escorted away by police. They were removed after an organized attempt to block School Reform Commission members from entering the auditorium to start the proceedings.

Among them was Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers and one of the meeting’s scheduled speakers. As she was being escorted down the hall and out of the building, she was heard to say, “It’s a virtuous fight.”

After Weingarten was led away by the police, Jerry Jordan, head of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, said:

“The schools belong to the community, and the community should have a say as to what happens to them. The community’s voices have been ignored by the School Reform Commission, which is why so many people are here today, to say that they do not want their schools closed. So, the protesters were blocking the doors because neither the SRC nor the mayor were willing to listen to the voices of the community. They haven’t listened to the students as well, who’ve given valid reasons for why the schools should not be closed.”

Despite hours of testimony, pleads for mercy, and presentation of alternative solutions, the commission voted to close 23 of the 27 schools proposed to close.

After over a decade of failure, the SRC decided that it’d be better to shut down the schools despite community efforts to keep them afloat.

This latest move provoked outrage in the people that see this as another step towards the privatization of public schools.

Organizers have vowed to continue fighting this with more actions announced to take place in the upcoming week.

The Southern Front

Manifestantes en el Arco de la Universidad de Georgia protestan en contra de la prohibición contra estudiantes indocumentados.

Manifestantes en el Arco de la Universidad de Georgia protestan en contra de la prohibición contra estudiantes indocumentados. /Yovany Díaz Tolentino

In Georgia, some 70 protesters held a demonstration at the University of Georgia campus to demand an end to the ban that impedes undocumented students from enrolling in the top five state colleges and universities.

This ban dates from 2010, when a study by the Georgia Board of Regents found that only 501 of the 31,000 students in the state’s higher education system were undocumented immigrants paying out-of-state tuition.

Pushed by a legislature that for several years had been after the undocumented community, the Board of Regents adopted the ban.

But resistance and awesomeness grew out of such crap. Started one year later by a group of college teachers and community members, Freedom University began offering university-level courses to Georgia undocumented students.

Freedom University, teachers and students, has been very instrumental in the fight against the ban, and this latest protest is one more action toward bringing it down.

As Mojado Citizen’s friend and new collaborator Rolando Zenteno reports from there, a group of students showed up at UGA’s admission office to tell officials there to end the ban on undocumented students.

This is Rolando’s report:

About 70 people protested Wednesday at the University of Georgia Arch, a campus landmark, to demand an end to the ban against undocumented students int the state’s colleges and universities.

At least three of the protesters made their way into the admissions office to deliver the message that the ban is unjust and should come to an end.

“We just wanted some answers about the admissions process … which I think isn’t something outrageous to ask to an admissions counselor. I would think that they would be the most knowledgeable of that,” Melissa Padilla said.

Padilla, 22, went into the building with fellow undocumented students Miriam Zumiga, 21, and Mitzy Calderon, 21.

Outside, the group staged a demonstration to make sure their voices were heard.

“We rallied. We marched. And we shared a couple of stories,” Yovany Diaz, a member of the Georgia Undocumented Youth Alliance, said.

Policy 4.1.6 restricts undocumented students from Georgia’s top five universities, which include the University of Georgia, Georgia Tech, Georgia State University, Medical College of Georgia, and Georgia College & State University.

The ban remains in place despite the Deferred Action Childhood Arrivals program that gives undocumented youth legal immigration status.

“The Board of Regents went above and beyond and said that it wasn’t enough, regardless of federal law and state law. They sent out a memo to all the administrations and admission offices and said that it [wouldn’t] be enough,” Padilla said.

The Board has failed to address the issue despite the high number of DACA beneficiaries in the state of Georgia. The Migration Policy Center estimates that there are some 38,500 deferred action possible beneficiaries in Georgia alone.

“I would say I’m Georgia-raised. I learned the same ethics and history and math and all the subjects that we got taught in school. I like to think that I’ve grown up American,” Padilla said.

Rolando Zenteno is freelance journalist and an undocumented college student in Georgia.

About Gustavo Martínez Contreras

was born in Texas, brewed in Mexico City, seasoned in the Mexico-United States border, aged walking the streets of Philadelphia. He had a short-lived stint eating grits, fried chicken, and peaches in Atlanta. He later became a béisbol writer for El Diario de Nueva York. He has written about immigrant communities in English, Spanish, and some Spanglish. Although he does not have a shelf full of awards, Gustavo has received thank you notes and hugs from people who have trusted him with their stories. His work has appeared in Voices of New York, El Diario/La Prensa, Dallas’ Al Día, The Philadelphia Public School Notebook, Philadelphia Weekly, Radio Bilingüe, Latina Lista, Spot.us, among others. He is currently pursuing a master's degree at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.
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