BPS move to put 7th, 8th graders on T moves forward after 7-6 City Council vote
Despite a bid by city councilors to reject the mayor’s budget for the Boston Public Schools, the school department’s plan to end bus service for 7th and 8th graders went forward last week with a 7-6 vote.
The plan, which will save $8 million in the department’s $1.2 billion budget, has elicited strident opposition from parents and parent organizers in the city’s black community who complained that middle school students will not be safe riding the MBTA without adult monitors.
“I received emails, phone calls, text messages and had face-to-face conversations with hundreds of people who were concerned about the safety of their children riding the MBTA without anyone who is trained to ensure their safety,” said District 7 City Councilor Tito Jackson. “It is unfair for adults to disregard the issues, concerns and perspectives of young people.”
Jackson and the other three councilors of color – Ayanna Pressley, Charles Yancey and Michelle Wu – voted against the budget, along with councilors Josh Zakim and Matt O’Malley.
The vote was not Mayor Martin Walsh’s first schism with the council; earlier in June, Walsh withdrew his bid to exempt high-ranking city officials from a requirement that they live in Boston after facing stiff resistance from councilors.
The school department’s transportation proposal drew pointed criticism from black community groups and civil rights organizations including the NAACP Boston Branch, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice, the Black Educators Alliance of Massachusetts (BEAM) and the Louis D. Brown Peace Initiative.
Critics of the plan complained that the plan puts children in harm’s way by forcing them to travel through violence-plagued neighborhoods unaccompanied by adults.
“Our city’s budget should reflect our values, and we should value nothing more than the safety, well-being and education of our young people,” said Michael Curry, president of the Boston Branch of the NAACP. “I commend the city councilors who stood in opposition to this plan, and I expect the mayor to deliver on his promise to address parents’ concerns.”
Critics also said the school department’s plan places an unfair burden on students of color, who they say have to travel farther to attend highly-ranked schools.
“This new plan will make some families choose between a school’s quality and their child’s safety traveling there,” said BEAM President Johnny McInnis. “No parent need make this choice.”
In the weeks leading up to the city council vote, school officials told community residents that the plan would provide bus service to students who face long commutes to their schools or who have to make multiple transfers between buses and/or trains, but did not specify what the threshold would be. School officials also pointed out that some middle schools have already ended bus service.
The move would place as many as 4,500 additional young riders on the MBTA. MBTA officials have said they do not plan on increasing service to accommodate the additional riders.
The school department began meeting with parents and parent organizations in May to talk about the plan, but Pressley said that by then, it was a done deal.
“My frustration all along is that this was never a proposal,” she said. “A proposal implies that there is a process. This was a plan.”
In community meetings and a city council hearing on the plan, parents and councilors asked school department officials to table the plan, to no avail.
Pressley points to the Ashmont Red Line station, which abuts her apartment building, to illustrate the potential drawbacks of putting 12- and 13-year-olds on public transportation.
“We have seen conflicts in the station, just like we see conflicts with teens at Ruggles, just like we’ve seen conflicts at Dudley,” she said. “People complain about Ashmont all the time.”
In community meetings, school department officials said they would deploy school officials to transit hubs and stations were teens are known to congregate to help diffuse conflicts, but acknowledged that the department does not have sufficient personnel to cover every station.