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Youth group accuses district of pushing out students

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A group of current and former students launched a campaign yesterday to identify peers they claim have been pushed out of Philadelphia public schools through closings or cutbacks to key programs.

Youth United for Change said the closure of 24 schools last year, combined with cuts to the school district’s Re-Engagement Center and slots in accelerated schools, has left students who drop out with few options.

“Being pushed out is unfair,” said YUC member Maury Elliott, a former Simon Gratz High student who briefly re-enrolled in an alternative school. “The school district and the [School Reform Commission] fail to stop this injustice. Instead, they influence it.”

Outside school district headquarters, members of the group wore T-shirts that read, “Have You Seen Me?” and stood in front of large makeshift milk cartons with blacked-out pictures.

About 10,000 students were displaced by last year’s closures, the district said. Most have been accounted for, but 600, whom YUC described as “missing,” have not.

District spokesman Fernando Gallard said an analysis indicated the 600 students either left the district, enrolled in private or parochial schools, or dropped out. Dropout numbers, he said, are typically a year behind.

YUC said another major blow has been cuts to the Re-Engagement Center, which provides former students with re-engagement options and links them to services. The center’s workforce is down from five full-time staffers in 2011 to one this year, plus a few interns, the district said.

YUC wants the district to implement better tracking systems for student transitions; acknowledge that school closures increase the likelihood of dropouts; locate and re-engage missing students; conduct and release an analysis of school closings; and fully fund the Re-Engagement Center.

Gallard said that the center is an important part of the district and that the hope is to restore resources to that and other programs.

“This goes to the heart of the conversation we’ve been having since we had to lay off over 4,000 employees,” he said. “It’s all directly connected to funding.”

Youth United for Change is an Atlantic grantee.

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