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Photo: Juntos Facebook page
The graphic used part of Juntos' Sanctuary School campaign to be launched on March 1. Photo: Facebook- Juntos 

Juntos launches its Sanctuary School campaign as the district sets March 8 as its new reopening date

The five-point campaign demands schools free of criminalization, to be community controlled, culturally-responsive and places of healing.

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Pre-k to second-grade students in the Philadelphia School District were set to return to the classroom on Monday, March 1, but this was put on hold due to ongoing discussions over COVID-19 safety concerns. 

Instead, Mayor Jim Kenney held a joint press conference at 1 p.m. with school district leaders and representatives from the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers to provide an update on the reopenings. 

It was agreed that pre-k through second grade students from 53 schools will begin returning to in-person learning on a rolling schedule beginning Monday, March 8. 

The district has put in place several layers of safety including mandatory mask wearing, rapid testing for students and staff, maximum occupancy signs, and plexiglass partitions. 

Councilmember Helen Gym released a statement applauding the school reopening plan, and calling on the school district to invest in repairs and support staff needed to reopen all schools safely.

“Our focus must be on a full school re-opening and using the federal relief dollars to prioritize continued modernization and repair of school buildings, investing in support staff particularly around trauma and mental health, and improving virtual learning,” Gym said.

Later in the afternoon, at 4 p.m, the organization Juntos is hosting a conference of their own outside of the School District of Philadelphia headquarters, as they launch their Sanctuary Schools Campaign. 

Juntos is a South Philadelphia community-led organization that fights for the rights of Latinx workers, parents, youth and immigrants. 

One of the main intentions for their campaign launch is to demand clear rules and regulations regarding ICE’s involvement in Philadelphia schools. 

According to a recent survey conducted by Juntos, which involved interviews with 350 teachers, administrators and other school faculty, 75% of the interviewees said they had no training at all around interacting with ICE in schools.

The Sanctuary Schools Campaign is a five-point platform. As laid out in their School Board Resolution, Juntos wants schools to be community-controlled, free of criminalization, and healing environments, where adequate and culturally-responsive education is prioritized. 

Juntos is calling for an education system that has absolutely no interaction with enforcement agencies or replication of enforcement strategies within the classroom. Black and Brown youth are often targeted by what’s known as the “school to prison pipeline,” a disturbing national trend where children are funneled out of public schools straight into the juvenile and criminal justice systems. 

The organization is also demanding schools that are free of police, free of surveillance, and free of ICE, so that children can make their own mistakes and have the support to learn from them. To achieve that reality, Juntos is demanding a dramatic reinvestment into education that  manifests a vision of schools with nurses, counselors, bilingual teachers, arts, music and health classes. 

Juntos also imagines school buildings free from toxins, such as asbestos, which has been a major problem in Philadelphia schools. 

Much of the lessons children taught in schools are also not culturally affirmative or representative of thee culture, lived experience or heritage of the district’s Black, Brown and LGBTQ+ students. Juntos wants to see lesson plans that teach our true history and help children develop a critical lens to help build a more just future. 

It also emphasized the growing prevalence of gentrification and how this impacts students’ ability to succeed. Juntos wants to ensure that students and families are decision makers in their schools. 

Lastly, they demand the city of Philadelphia invest in trauma-informed practices, restorative justice and social and emotional learning techniques. If it is truly committed to the recovery and wellbeing of the community, it’s crucial that they delve into mental health resources for their students, so that their future can be one of thriving, not just surviving. 

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