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School Committee votes to close West Roxbury Education Complex

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the Banner’s senior editor. VIEW BIO
School Committee votes to close West Roxbury Education Complex
West Roxbury Academy junior Cateri Giglio speaks during the Dec. 19 School Committee meeting. BANNER PHOTO

Over the protests of students, teachers, city councilors and civil rights activists, the Boston School Committee voted Wednesday to close the West Roxbury Education Complex that houses two high schools, West Roxbury Academy and Urban Science Academy.

Rising seniors will be given the option of remaining together in space at the Irving Middle School under the plan, and sophomores and juniors will be given priority placement at other high schools.

City councilors Annissa Essaibi-George and Matt O’Malley testify during last week’s school committee meeting. BANNER PHOTO

City councilors Annissa Essaibi-George and Matt O’Malley testify during last week’s school committee meeting. BANNER PHOTO

The vote, widely seen as a done deal before it happened, drew anger from many in the audience.

“We don’t deserve this,” said West Roxbury Academy student Cateri Giglio in testimony before the vote. “We deserve a true school. Not a hallway or a floor in a building where we feel unwelcome and uncomfortable like we’re out of place.”

Five of the six members of the committee voted to close the complex. School Committee member Regina Robinson abstained.

Interim Superintendent Laura Perille cited unsafe conditions in West Roxbury Education Complex as the impetus for the closing of the schools.

“The deterioration of the infrastructure of the West Roxbury Education Complex necessitated the difficult decision to close West Roxbury Academy and Urban Science Academy,” she said in a statement issued following the vote. “The Boston Public Schools will remain steadfast in our commitment to ensuring that current students within these schools are supported throughout this transition.”

But city councilors Annissa Essaibi-George and Matt O’Malley, testifying before the school committee, urged the department to do more to find space for the schools to continue operating while the West Roxbury complex is demolished and rebuilt.

Interim BPS Superintendent Laura Perille makes the case for closing the West Roxbury Education Complex as School Committee member Hadein Coleman looks on. BANNER PHOTO

Interim BPS Superintendent Laura Perille makes the case for closing the West Roxbury Education Complex as School Committee member Hadein Coleman looks on. BANNER PHOTO

“School closures without a transparent long- and short-term plan are not a viable way to achieve the goals of BuildBPS,” O’Malley said, reading from a letter he co-signed with Essaibi-George and councilors Michelle Wu, Kim Janey, Ayanna Pressley and Lydia Edwards.

In their letter, dated Dec. 3, the councilors asked that schools in need of extensive renovations have clear plans so that school communities remain intact during renovations, that schools be active participants in any plans to merge them with other schools and that schools be given the right of first refusal to locate back into buildings they vacate for renovations.

“I know there are issues that have been going back decades,” O’Malley said of the West Roxbury Education Complex. “However, I think there is a real opportunity, much as members of this body have correctly supported the rising seniors, that the same be available to the rising juniors and rising sophomores as well.”

Clarion call

Boston Teachers Union President Jessica Tang called the widespread opposition to the closing — no audience member spoke in favor — a “clarion call to cease impending harm to some of our most vulnerable and high-needs students in the city.”

“We know that there are schools in this city that no matter the state of their building would not be closed and somehow they would find a temporary home,” she said.

Perille said the vote had to move forward during the Tuesday meeting in order for West Roxbury students to be placed in high schools with open seats next year. She admitted that the district has not yet identified a new space for Boston Collaborative High, an alternative school that will be moved from its space in the Irving school to make way for the West Roxbury students.

Zoey Morosini, a teacher at the alternative high school, said the decision to move her school out of the Irving, announced last week, came as a shock.

“For us, moving was expected eventually,” she said. “But where will we be? Will it be in gang-neutral territory? Will the space be enough for our students’ growing needs? Will all our programs move as one? We still have no firm answers. Despite the clear impact on us, we weren’t even invited to the discussion.”

West Roxbury Academy student Giglio, who has attended every school committee meeting since the school department announced its plans to close the West Roxbury schools, said the department ignored the widespread opposition.

“I’m so tired of me and my fellow classmates being made to feel like we don’t matter,” she said during her testimony. “I’m done.”

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