A complaint about how Philadelphia High School selected its valedictorian this year was brought to the Mayor and Board of Aldermen last week by organizers of the Black Lives Matter protests.

Kawana Tanksley, the mother of a recent Philadelphia High School graduate, accompanied by BLM organizers, went before the mayor and board to air grievances about how the School Board has handled her inquiries as to why her daughter was, she asserts, randomly demoted from valedictorian to salutatorian. 

Two of the BLM organizers, Tiffon and Malek Moore, called for city School Board accountability and demanded improvements in the school district, which they feel has fallen into peril.

Tanksley told the aldermen she spoke with Superintendent Lisa Hull about the discrepancy and Hull explained she has nothing to do with grades and directed Tanksley to the principal.

Tanksley was then told by the principal and school counselor that it was a simple mistake. Following a meeting with the School Board on May 12, President Harold Coburn told Tanksley her concerns were “valid and compelling,” and an investigation was called for. 

Tanksley said she was informed on May 26 that Hull was personally and solely conducting the investigation which is distressing, Tanksley told aldermen. 

As she described for the board, a rumor surfaced that another Class of 2020 member was allowed to take an advanced placement class online in the Philadelphia High Library, which was an opportunity not extended to other seniors. Tanksley said she reached out to Coburn on May 26 with concerns about the handling of the investigation, but she has received no reply, she told the aldermen.

Finally, the Tanksleys allegedly received a letter from Hull’s office that Tanksley asserts was tantamount to an accusation of dishonesty on her and her daughter’s part announcing the investigation was closed.

“I realized that they had sent me in a full circle in hopes that I, along with my concerns, would simply go away,” Tanksley told the mayor and board.

Tanksley asked the mayor and board to set up a meeting with the School Board to begin holding them accountable and pleading that another injustice in Philadelphia not be allowed to occur.

Tiffon and Malek Moore took the podium to speak for the Black Empowerment Organization of Philadelphia-Neshoba County that’s been organizing the Black Lives Matter peaceful protests. 

Tiffon Moore cited more teachers leaving the school district in the past six years than in the history of the school district’s existence, an overload of work on teachers that remains and the possibility of unlicensed teachers teaching state-mandated courses as causes for concern within the Philadelphia Public School District.

She called for meetings with the School Board to hold them accountable and hopefully rectify the issues present. 

After thanking the the group for their recent peaceful protesting, Mayor James A. Young stressed his commitment to seeking a solution.

“I’ve said many times, I want to promote a great school,” Young said. “I want the best education that’s out there. My daughter is a product of Philadelphia High School. She is a successful administrator now. … I want that same thing for the other students that are there now.”

Various members of the board began explaining how the only charge that allows them to remove a school board official is “malfeasance in office,” and barring that, aldermen are not legally allowed to interfere with the decisions of the School Board. 

Ward 1Alderman Joe Tullos emphasized his desire for the aldermen to say out of the district’s business and directed the the group to address the School Board directly, rather than relying on aldermen to get involved. 

City Attorney Robert Thomas warned the aldermen against being used as a political tool to give the appearance of aldermen pressuring appointed School Board members. 

Ward 2 Alderman Jim Fulton and Ward 4 Alderman Cassie Henson both voiced their opinions that, though the board cannot do anything themselves, they are fine with supporting community attempts to voice criticism in a public manner by attending whatever meeting or forum is decided upon between the School Board and the community. 

Fulton, in particular, shared his idea that Parents for Public Schools of Philadelphia would be a better third-party arbitrator than the aldermen.

“We aren’t asking for them to be micromanaged,” Tiffon Moore said. “We’re just asking for some form of accountability when the community has its concerns, when the students themselves have their concerns, and they’re bringing their concerns to us because they feel like they haven’t been heard.”

Mayor Young said afterwards the board listened but did not have any answers and referred Ms. Tanksley to the School Board.

Malek and Tiffon Moore expressed their concerns about failures.

“Philadelphia has lost more students and more faculty in the past six years than ever before,” said Tiffon Moore, who has a student in the middle school. “Also, we went from a “B” school to a “F” school in such a short period of time. We have concerned parents and students who are very discouraged for this.”

Moore said she is concerned that current Philadelphia teachers are overwhelmed with other duties that go with their regular teaching load and wonders what effect it could have in the classroom.

The Philadelphia School District is currently a “D” school district. That designation was earned through the pervious year. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, there was no state testing in the spring and all schools and school district will maintain their current rating until next year.

In other business, the city is looking to sell one of its older fire trucks which was replaced by the recent purchase of a new pumper. Mayor Young said it was likely the city would go through the state auction.

The town also approved a permit for the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians tor a motorcade to follow a route through Philadelphia Saturday bringing attention to the toll that the COVID-19 Pandemic has brought on the Tribe.

The city is trying to get in touch with the owners of a house on the corner of Holland and Jefferson about the condition of the house.