Story and photos by Susan Fried
Most Garfield High School staff and students left their classes and gathered in the school’s gym to show support for two teachers displaced from Garfield High School around 10 a.m. on September 28. The two teachers being displaced are Jessie Purcell, who teaches health and physical education, and Amy Miller, who teaches health. The teachers work with a lot of students, particularly students of color and low-income students.
Nathan Simoneaux, an 11th-grade history teacher, spoke for the staff and explained to the students why everyone had gathered in the gym.
“We realize this looks messy, we realize this isn’t the most organized thing you’ve ever been through in your life,” he said. “Democracy never is, Democracy is messy, civic action is messy.”
He explained how this seems to happen every year and that the school district has the money to pay for the positions in it’s rainy day fund.
“Every year around this time they try and tell us, oh now we’re actually going to be taking this teacher from you or now we’re going to displace this person,” he said, “and every year that is disruptive to the learning in this building and this year they went too far. We have the money to fund the positions, the city is sitting on $50 million in a rainy day fund. How is this anything but a rainy day, how is losing two teachers, 300 students who will be displaced from a class anything but a crisis?”
He went on to say, “We as a staff will not sit and allow these cuts to happen, we will not allow our PE and our health classes to be taken away, classes that disproportionately serve students of color and low-income students. To cut those positions is an institutionally racist based decision.”
Mr. Simoneaux invited students who had been in either Ms. Miller or Ms. Purcell classes to talk about their experiences and how the decision to let them go will effect them. One student said that he’d had Ms. Purcell as his gym teacher as a freshman and that it had been one of the best experiences he ever had.
“I learned so much more than just basic exercise, and it was an experience that I will never forget,” he said.
Ms. Purcell, the gym teacher who is being displaced, told the students that she had chosen Garfield as the school where she wanted to teach.
“This is the worst day. I am heart broken. I have been here for six years and of all the places I could have chosen to teach, I chose Garfield and I begged Mr. Howard for this to be my home,” she said. “Garfield is not a perfect place. It’s a challenging place to be a student, and it’s a challenging place to be a teacher, but every year I come back and I don’t come back because it’s that hard, I come back for you guys. I don’t want to be anywhere else.”
A letter from Seattle Public Schools one week prior announced that Garfield would lose one teacher, only to discover later that it would be two. While Garfield is slated to lose two teachers, other schools are gaining teachers.
Displaced teachers will be reassigned, according to the letter. If there is not a position available to them, they will be designated as substitutes until a position opens.
Students at Garfield rallied in the gym until lunchtime.
One Garfield student praised his fellow students and teachers for taking action.
“It’s especially important now given that yesterday we heard from a Supreme Court nominee that has several open allegations of sexual assault against him, a president that has rejected globalization in front of the United Nations and now a school district that wants to let go of some of the teachers that are teaching those lessons to underserved communities and minority races and given the duty of civic action, something that is even more pressing than ever in this current time,” he said. “We, Garfield, have embraced it and that is just phenomenal.”
Featured Image: Ms. Jesse Purcell, one of the teachers being displaced, held back tears as she told the students in the gym how sad she was to have to leave Garfield High School. She said she considers Garfield her home. (Photo: Susan Fried)