The “SRC 16” — a group of parents, community members and recent high school graduates who were arrested in March for blocking the doors to a School Reform Commission meeting that determined the closure of 23 public schools — were all acquitted today of misdimeanor charges.
Philadelphia Municipal Court Judge T. Francis Shields found there was not enough evidence to support charges of disorderly conduct for any of the defendants. The only testimony came from Lieutenant Joseph O’Brien of the Philadelephia Police Civil Affairs Unit, who said he recognized 12 of the 16 defendants, but did not confirm they were the ones blocking the doors. In fact, O’Brien said he was not clear on the protesters’ motivations or the agenda for the meeting. The weekly SRC meetings are “basically the same thing — programs being cut, people being laid off,” he said.
The judge was sympathetic to the protesters’ cause. “I share your concern, my children go to school in this city,” he said. But he added that they “went a little too far.”
All of the defendants were offered the option of Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition by the District Attorney's Office — a misdemeanor-diversion program that allows for expungement — and chose instead to enter "not guilty" pleas. Three other protesters, including American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten, agreed to pay a fine and attend an Accelerated Rehabilitative Dispositions education session instead of disputing the charges.
“I was proud to stand with these brave students, parents and community leaders,” Weingarten said in a statement, adding that they were “fighting to save the very soul of public education.”
“We had a strong case. … We were in the right,” said Ricardo Bracero, a Youth United for Change employee who graduated from Kensington High School in 2008.
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