Voices of Our City | Nov. 21-28

Weekly roundup of rants, reactions and random musings from you, our readers

Our city has so much to say. Each week, we give you the floor. | Image: Maria Young

THE SHOUT OUT 

“Here we are again. A city in mourning. It’s tragic. You can’t bring back a life. This is not a game. You don’t get a do-over or restart. Your actions are fatal. They are eternal.”

– Emart Harley to 6abc news following the shooting death of a 2-year-old in Philadelphia last week. 

Your turn: Why are so many of our children becoming victims of gun violence? What can be done to stop the shootings? Send your thoughts to voices@philadelphiaweekly.com 

We’re just scratching the surface of DHS

Editor’s note: This letter was edited for tone and the removal of specific names

I’m a parent involved in this fight [referenced in your Nov. 14 cover story] with DHS/CUA.  I have spoken with case managers and their previous supervisor multiple times on complaints against my child’s current case manager. This particular case worker has helped my aunt who has a criminal background and collects disability for her mental illness become a treatment foster parent for my [two sons]. 

My two sons have been neglected and abused in her care and DHS has made excuses for their treatment repeatedly. As retaliation for me speaking out on my children’s mistreatment, my case went from reunification to a termination of parental rights (TPR) and my aunt [plans to] adopt my sons. 

To [make matters worse], I am a product of my mother’s rape and a constant reminder of this, so my family treats my kids the same way! And I tried to voice this to DHS and no one hears me! I even went as far as collecting evidence of emotional neglect from my son’s therapist, and I recently learned my [youngest, a toddler] is going to a therapist so my aunt can collect more money. Also, [I’ve learned that my] oldest son’s mental health evaluations that have red flags throughout it.

This is how real Philadelphia “kinship care” works. 

– Vanessa L. | Bensalem 

SEPTA is its people, not its product

When I visit my family in the Philadelphia suburbs, I like taking the local SEPTA train from downtown Philly to their place.  It saves them a drive in traffic that can be nightmarish. I know what train to take, and where to get off. I just text them to let them know I’m en route and climb aboard.

On my most recent trip, I took the train at rush hour. My baggage and I were jammed into a tiny spot in the aisle, where people scooted aside to let me squeeze in. I couldn’t move more than six inches in any direction if that. As the train rolled away, I struggled to keep my balance as we lurched back and forth over the rough spots. 

From my wedged-in corner, I couldn’t see the route map, or hear the announcements of what stops were coming up. And, to further confuse matters, the rush-hour trains don’t make all the stops. So, when I caught a glimpse of one of the conductors, I told him, quite loudly (probably too loud) that I was hard-of-hearing and would need help knowing when we were getting close to the Strafford stop. He was very pleased to help and said he’d let me know. 

Then, I relaxed a little and focused more on trying not to fall down as the train continued to sway wildly, my luggage-on-wheels even more unstable than me. A moment later, a woman sitting right next to me got my attention and said she overheard me talking to the conductor. Strafford was the third station after hers, and she would remind me of that when she got off. Then, the man sitting in front of her told me that Strafford was, in fact, his station, and he would make sure I got off there. Then, a guy sitting in the corner started signing in ASL to me. He was very nice about slowing down and finger-spelling a few things, so we had the basics of a conversation, which was a nice distraction.    

When the woman’s station came up, she got very close, held up three fingers, and reminded me Strafford was the third station after this one. When Strafford finally came up, the other nice man got my attention and escorted me out of the train, at which point we passed the conductor, who was on his way over to make sure I got off at the right place.

Good thing I’m not an introvert. And good thing the people in Philadelphia are as friendly as their reputation.

– Kathi Mestayer | Williamsburg, Va.

Good ol’ Negadelphia

As I sat and watched my beloved Birds take a heartbreaking loss to the Patriots on Sunday, the first thing I thought was not about the loss but just how negative and miserable sports talk was going to be for the rest of this week. I’m a 53-year-old lifelong season ticket holder that has lived in this city all my life. I’m the cliche that says he bleeds green. I’m just happy that in my lifetime I was able to witness a parade down Broad Street. Not that I’m satisfied by any means, but, yes, I can die happy. 

But when you sit and listen to these mopes who just complain about every dropped ball, every missed connection on a pass, missed tackle when the team lost by a touchdown to a Pats team that looks primed to go back to the Super Bowl again, that’s when you realize you truly live in a city of unhappy schlepps. 

We lost 17-10, you jackasses, the division sucks and there are still eight games left in the season, what the hell are you all so whiny about? From the idiots on (ESPN) 97.5-FM to the hype men on WIP (94.1-FM) – by the way, I can’t stand that Angelo Cataldi – it’s too much to bear. The season’s not over, there’s no fat lady yet, get a beer, get a massage, get a blowie and just relax, will ya? 

OK, that’s my two cents. 

– Bill Michener | South Philadelphia

Charter schools for everyone!

When I see Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf trying to close Pennsylvania’s charter schools, I cannot help but think of what that would have done to my family if we didn’t have school choice in Oklahoma.

Legislators in Pennsylvania should know that my oldest son – a well-behaved, honor-roll student – attempted to take his own life. Internal struggles had changed school from a place of learning to a place of fear and despair for him. Feeling trapped, he almost succeeded in taking his own life and shattering ours.

Following this near-tragedy a few important things happened: My son was diagnosed with Aspergers, a diagnosis that helped him understand why he was feeling so lost. And I moved him and my two other children out of public school and into a virtual public school where they could learn in an environment better suited to their needs.

That experience inspired me to become more involved in Oklahoma and nationally as a voice in support of the school choice that not only saved but changed my son’s life. I now serve as president of the National Coalition for Public School Options, an organization dedicated to promoting all school choice options and empowering parents to choose what’s best for their families. Our mission is neatly summed up by our motto: #ITrustParents.

Unfortunately, Gov. Wolf does not seem to trust Pennsylvania’s parents. He believes he knows what’s better for children. Among his attacks on charter schools, he claims Pennsylvania charters aren’t accountable.

This simply isn’t true. They’re held accountable by parents, who make the choice to send their children to charters. And more importantly, we can remove them. Charter schools also have been closed, but district schools that fail children for years are never under the same threat or accountability.

Gov. Wolf misses the entire point of what makes charter schools such an essential part of a modern education system. No family chooses to take their child out of a school that is working for them. Families choose charter schools because the local traditional public school option has failed their family in education or safety – and in some cases, both.

That’s why Gov. Wolf’s plan – that includes caps on enrollment and a moratorium – is disappointing. It is a deliberate attack on school choice that ignores all the good charter schools have done in Pennsylvania and around the country. It isn’t surprising because charter school parents have seen that opposition to school choice comes in many forms – some subtle, some not. 

We’ve seen it at the legislative level, at the regulatory level and once again at the executive level, similar to what is going on in Pennsylvania.

We urge Gov. Wolf and the Legislature to consider the educational successes of hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvania students who currently attend or previously attended a charter, magnet or cyber school. It may surprise some to know that as parents of charter school students, we believe in accountability more than most.

That’s why we chose to leave traditional failing public schools for charters. We hold charters equally accountable for our decisions. We also don’t oppose reform, but reform should treat all public schools the same. Traditional schools are permitted to fail our children year after year. We see this in nearly every state, and it’s horrible hypocrisy. This is how it works:

The traditional school district fails a student. The student’s parents send him to a charter school. The district attacks the charter school for the child’s testing scores, despite failing the student for years. Finally, citing test scores and a drain on their financial resources, the district calls for closing the charter school.

But do they? That doesn’t seem to be the case in Pennsylvania.

According to the Pennsylvania-based Commonwealth Foundation, the state’s 500 school districts hold $4.6 billion in reserve funds. Reserves have grown for 13 consecutive years, including $64 million in 2017-18. In 2015, PennLive found that the reserves were enough to fund all 26 state prisons for two full years and still have money left over.

In fact, charter schools receive only about 72 percent of the per-pupil funding that district schools receive. If anything, charter students deserve more support not less because brick-and-mortar and cyber charters are working hard to help children every day in Pennsylvania and across the country. Every charter parent believes in holding public schools accountable, and we’re open to real reforms, but let’s demand those reforms impact all Pennsylvania schools.

Otherwise, it isn’t reform. It’s an attack on parents’ right to choose the schools that best fit their children. Fortunately for my children in Oklahoma, I had a choice. And it literally saved my son’s life.

– Colleen Cook | Oklahoma

THE WEEK IN TWEETS

Your reactions this week to PW’s three-part investigative series “The Kids are Crying.”