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Transparency, public input needed in BPS planning

Ruby Reyes

For many in BPS, the past two weeks have been disturbing. The announcement of three school closings from one day to another was a deja-vu experience of irresponsibility that BPS families and staff know all too well.

From the school start time debacle in December 2017 to Tommy Chang’s attempts to give a portion of the McCormack’s athletic fields to the city as a “surplus” in May 2018, to the deportation of a BPS student and Chang’s resignation in June, to the mayor’s choice of an interim superintendent quickly passed by the School Committee in August–all have continued a trend of historical inconsistent communication, lack of transparency and bad decision making that have left many with complete distrust.

Just when we thought the mess could get no bigger, the roll out of BuildBPS began marked by the announcement of the West Roxbury Education Complex needing to be demolished with only special program students remaining together and other students to be sprinkled wherever space could be found. That same day, the BPS administration proposed closing The McCormack and moving students to Excel.

Under BuildBPS, Mayor Walsh promised to invest in aging BPS school buildings. As an effort to create healthy community engagement, a Community Advisory Group was developed in May 2018, which was not open to the public and had two scheduled meetings that were both canceled. Under Perille, the group was restarted and made open to the public. Thus far, two meetings have been held, the most recent with BPS staff unable to answer questions from community groups. Many are wondering how BPS and the city are deciding what is “community engagement.” It feels like the current forums are designed to talk at the community rather than listen.

In BuildBPS, the six middle schools will be closed, although there has never been a discussion with families or even a formal School Committee vote on the decision. All six middle schools have extra high percentages of low income and children of color compared to BPS as a whole. So the district will be restructured at the expense of kids who already face extra challenges.

BPS also claims to have exhausted all possibilities for keeping West Roxbury Academy and Urban Science Academy students together, but admit they never looked outside BPS property. Is it that BPS is unwilling to spend extra money to rent facilities for school communities to remain together?

As Jeri Robinson shared at the School Committee on October 17, “What if a tornado hit Boston Latin School? We would be figuring out how to keep that community solid no matter where it went.”

BuildBPS may not lead to more resources for students with the highest needs. We know that students in traditional high schools are struggling more and have less resources than those in pilot and exam schools. That raises the question, who will be able to enjoy and use the new school facilities Build BPS proposes?

BPS claims BuildBPS is designed to reduce transitions for students and create more equity. However, combined with the home-based assignment system, its effect is likely to be even more segregation than the system before. BuildBPS also calls for high schools to bid for the new facilities, creating a “Hunger Games” mentality of access to students and neighborhoods, which is the opposite of equity. 

The right way is to first, measure all decision making by the Hippocratic oath—do no harm, even if that means waiting. BEJA continues to push for no school closings until a comprehensive BuildBPS plan is presented to the community starting with a clear explanation of the problems with thoughtful options that benefit students. Data and facilities reports have not been shared. We also demand that school communities remain together. The proposed closures will rip school communities apart, friends, programs, teachers and parents who have spent years developing relationships and finding ways to support one another. We do not believe all possible options have been explored.

Our recommendations include destroying the Rogers school which is empty of students and using modules for swing space. We suggest BPS invest in the students of WRC by renting space at a neighboring college or parochial school and make a financial commitment to keep their school communities together. The McCormack building does not need to be closed, bringing harm to the social and emotional development of the students who will be moved.

As we approach the 65th anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education which concluded that separate educational facilities is not equal, Boston seems to be moving backwards. The dark ghosts of busing and a polarized segregated Boston continue to materialize in new ways and leave many families wondering who BuildBPS is for.

Ruby Reyes is executive director of the Boston Education Justice Alliance.

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