AUDENRIED HIGH School teacher Hope Moffett was stuck in "solitary confinement" yesterday in the basement of an administrative office otherwise known as the Philadelphia School District's "teacher jail."
But that didn't stop her from contacting her students, who are upset that she's been removed from her classroom for nothing more than speaking her mind about controversial changes planned at the school where she has worked for three years.
"I don't feel defeated," Moffett said. "Being in a rubber room is a disheartening experience. I did feel almost sick yesterday because I was in a basement room with no fresh air."
Moffett faces an "investigatory conference" today after she openly criticized the district's plan to convert Audenried, at 33rd and Tasker streets, in Grays Ferry, into a charter school as part of the Renaissance Schools initiative to turn underachieving schools around.
Moffett said she was first told that she was in trouble for "inciting a riot" after students protested last week, and that the district ordered her in a letter last Thursday "not to discuss this matter.".
"Failure to follow this directive will result in disciplinary action," the letter said.
Moffett hasn't stopped speaking her mind, however, including writing an opinion in Tuesday's Daily News, signed by six other Audenried teachers, outlining why community members and many staffers believe that the changes are unfair.
"There's an attempt to silence anyone who asks a question, and that's not healthy for the district," said Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. "Teachers should be able to question what is going on. It's her personal business, and if she chooses to say something, then that's her constitutional right."
Jordan said that today's conference will decide whether the allegations made against Moffett - including the role that the district said she is "alleged to have played in endangering the safety and welfare of children" - are valid enough to go forward with a disciplinary action.
Moffett said that the district implied in a letter that she endangered students by giving them SEPTA tokens to get to the protest, as she told the Philadelphia Public School Notebook.
Shana Kemp, a school-district spokeswoman, said that the district wouldn't comment because it is a personnel matter.
Yesterday was Moffett's second day at "teacher jail," which she described as a basement classroom at Strawberry Mansion High where mice scampered and the walls are covered with inspirational posters.
"All the signs are sort of Orwellian," Moffett said. "They say things like, 'Make sure the things you do today are decisions you can live with tomorrow,' 'The children come first' and 'Parents are our partners.' "
An unidentified Audenried teacher who was assigned to the office with Moffett on Friday was allowed to return to class yesterday and wasn't charged with any infractions, she said.
Moffett said she believes that the district blames her for the protest, but students say that it was their choice. "A lot of people get mixed up and say the teachers put this in our heads [to protest]," said Ava Reeves, an 18-year-old junior. "But Ms. Moffett didn't put anything in our heads."
The students spent this month, Black History Month, "learning about Martin Luther King and the civil-rights movement, and we decided to protest," Reeves said. "It was the way the school district went about telling us [about the Renaissance Schools plan]."
Audenried will be converted to a charter run by Universal Companies, the company founded by local music mogul Kenny Gamble.
Universal received a $500,000 federal "Promise Neighborhood" planning grant last year to try to model the poverty-stricken Southwest Philadelphia neighborhood that feeds into Audenried after New York's successful Harlem Children's Zone.
But parents, community leaders and students say that they've yet to hear any details of Universal's plans and aren't happy that their school was just turned over to the company.
In addition, Reeves said that students are upset that Moffett was removed just weeks before the school's juniors take state assessment tests.
"Some of the kids were saying today, 'Don't take our Hope away,' " Reeves said. "It's wrong. It's just two weeks before we take the PSSAs, and she's our only [junior-class English] teacher.
"It makes us think you [want to] take our Hope away, and it's like you want us to fail."