Students from Allentown School District walked out of class Monday as part of an organized protest against the school district's leadership.
The walkout was arranged by Michael Frassetto, who, according to LehighValleyLive.com, says he lost his job of five years at Roberto Clemente Charter School in Allentown for trying to "support his students." He currently teaches at the Medical Academy Charter School in Catasauqua, where he was caught on video encouraging students to participate in a campaign against the district, which would involve protesting at school board meetings and walking out of classes every day for a week. Students from William Allen and Dieruff high schools as well as Roberto Clemente and Medical Academy charter schools participated.
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Frassetto is hoping for all nine school board members to give Superintendent Russell Mayo a "vote of no confidence" and force him to resign. Protesters are concerned with the district's high school graduation rate, with both Dieruff and Allen's rates falling below 77%.
Their list of demands includes the implementation of a summer employment program and a representative on the school board chosen by the students.
The turnout at the Thursday evening board meeting was overwhelming; at least 50 students and parents were locked out of the venue in the interest of safety. The crowd reacted negatively to being kept out, and students began rattling glass windows and demanding to be let inside.
"If the [district] was aware that a large number of people were expected, they should have made arrangements to accommodate them in advance of the meeting," Melissa Melewsky, the media law counsel for the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association, told The Morning Call. "The board locking citizens out of a public meeting is disgraceful."
The movement did not stop there. About 400 students walked out of class at Dieruff High School Monday at 9:15 a.m. to the MLK statue in downtown Allentown. Frassetto led the pack, initiating chants like "they don't care, but we do" and "we're young, we're strong, we're marching all night long." Students carried signs with messages that read "we have the right to be heard" and "stand together for education."
Professors from Lehigh University and Kutztown University came and offered 30 minute classes during the walkout. The United Youth Party, a youth group in Allentown, was able to provide the movement with $2,500 for the week for expenses like food.
Cops showed up at the walkout to protect participants and maintain the peaceful nature of the protest, but Assistant Chief Bill Lake was clear about the police department's stand on the issue.
"We do not actively support kids leaving school. Children should be in school learning, going to class," he told The Morning Call.
Students' parents were informed ahead of time that anyone who left school to participate would receive an unexcused absence. Frassetto promised that no repercussions would follow in a video posted on his Facebook page. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) states that peaceful protests are okay, but schools may punish anyone who skips class to participate.
"We are not endorsing any walkouts at any school," said Jose Rosado, CEO of Medical Academy Charter School, in a statement to The Morning Call. "We've spoken with the teacher in his role and made it very clear that he needs to be able to separate his role as a teacher at the Medical Academy Charter School and his role as a community youth advocate."