In face of planned protest, Corbett cancels high school visit

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PHILADELPHIA -- With a burst of boos and chants of "We Will Vote," more than 300 protesters expressed outrage and disappointment after Gov. Tom Corbett canceled his appearance Friday with seniors at Central High School.

The governor had changed his plans at the last minute, citing concerns about "any theatrics the adults had planned."

But the theatrics surrounding Mr. Corbett's visit had only just begun.

Before 10 a.m., a crowd of parents, Central alumni, school district employees and religious and civic leaders began marching to Central, expecting to confront the governor as he arrived at the elite high school.

As they neared Central, word spread via social media that Mr. Corbett would be a no-show.

The governor had planned the visit to honor Central, J.R. Masterman High School and George Washington Carver High School for their high scores on state exams.

Marisa Block, 25, a 2006 Central graduate, who was one of the protesters assembled under a tree in front of the high school, called the governor's decision "shameful."

"He's not willing to face the protesters who are out here," said Ms. Block, who took off from work to attend the protest.

At a news conference, Mr. Corbett told reporters, "I don't run from anything. I face things head on."

Corbett administration insiders, who asked that they not be identified because they were not authorized to speak publicly, said the governor and many of his closest aides became concerned last night that the planned protests outside the school could spill inside, risking student safety.

There was also concern that his presence would become a distraction, turning an event meant to highlight student success into political theater.

"He wrestled with the decision," said one close adviser Friday. "He really wanted this to be about the kids."

The adviser said administration officials were on the phone late into Thursday evening to figure out the best course of action, and that the governor made the call to cancel the event Friday morning.

Political opponents wasted no time in criticizing the governor.

"Tom Corbett cannot lead Pennsylvania if he is too afraid to look students, parents and educators in the eye while explaining his cuts and failed education policies," said Tom Wolf, a Democratic candidate for governor.

U.S. Rep. Allyson Y. Schwartz, also a Democratic candidate whose two sons are Central graduates, said, "After denying public schools the resources they need to educate our children, it is an affront to our students, parents, teachers, and school personnel that Gov. Corbett has canceled what would have been his first visit to a Philadelphia school."

To the assembled protesters, Galeet Cohen, a Central alumna and a biology teacher at the school, read an open letter to Mr. Corbett from the school staff that was written Thursday.

"We are proud of and celebrate our students' achievements, yet we recognize that they have accomplished this in spite of, rather than because of, your budget cuts and educational policies," the letter said.

Ms. Cohen said students reacted to the news with sadness, yet felt a sense of victory that perhaps they were being heard.

"It's sad not to have an opportunity for them to be politically engaged," Ms. Cohen said.

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