Allentown Students Demand to be Heard at School District Meeting

Photo credit: Screen capture of WFMZ story, "Students pack ASD board meeting in protest,"

Allentown students showed up in large numbers at last night’s school board meeting to demand sweeping changes in the district. Carrying signs saying “Listen to the Kids,” “Youth Matters,” “Bring Back Programs,” and “I Want a Future,” students wanted to make it clear that there needs to be some significant changes.

Before last night, student organizers had three demands on the table: the resignation of superintendent Russ Mayo; granting student representatives on the school board full voting rights; and, the establishment of a summer jobs program for the district’s youth. United Youth Party, the organization that has spearheaded much of the initial organization, had been facing criticism for putting forward a limited set of demands that would not, critics argued, address the serious problems facing the district including budget cuts, over-crowding, lack of significant retention programs, and insufficient student support services. Students at last night’s rally seemed to respond to some of that criticism through the signs they carried and their broader demands.

Students also responded to criticism that they were targeting teachers instead of the school district. Allentown School District teachers were also present in large numbers last night to put pressure on the school board and Superintendent Mayo to get back to the table and bargain in good faith. Allentown teachers are currently working without a contract and there has not been any significant movement in recent negotiations. If there had been some tension between student organizers and teachers, the students gathered at last night’s meeting made overt efforts stand in solidarity with teachers demanding change. Students joined teachers on their informational picket line, chanting together in a show of unity and shared goals.

Earlier in the day, the Allentown Education Association, the teachers union issued a cautious statement of support for students mobilizing to improved conditions in Allentown schools. While explicitly not endorsing Monday’s proposed walkout at this time, citing concerns for student safety, the statement began:

As a union, the Allentown Education Association understands the power of collective voice and the need to effect change through collective action. The members of our Association do not disagree with some of the objectives sought by the students and organizers of the student walkout planned for next week.  We understand better than most that the devastating budget cuts of the state and decisions of the district have truly impacted this generation of students of the Allentown School District.  Our students deserve to have a bright and hopeful future.  The professional educators of the Allentown School District have been committed to providing the best, despite every obstacle that has been thrown their way, in order to help students see every dream they have come true.

{Read the full statement HERE.}

As Monday’s proposed student walkout grows ever closer, one thing should be clear from last night’s rally: a movement to defend students, teachers, and public education is slowly taking shape. Like any political movement, there will be fits and starts, conflicts, and problems. And like any emerging political movement, the character of that movement will be measured by how those involved meet and resolve those challenges, not by any one single action. We saw that process in action last night.

Here is some video and pictures from last night’s action via the magic of social media:

Help Us, Help Kids!

Teachers: Bargain with us!

Storify of Morning Call Reporter, Jackie Palochko’s Live Tweets





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