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BPS needs to embrace true equity

Ruby Reyes

As a new school year began, BPS leadership continued a dangerous trend of being rhetoric-rich and implementation-poor. Central office leadership uses the terms “equity,” “anti-racism” and “accountability” regularly. However, BPS leadership has gutted the meaning of the terms, most especially in school reopening, BuildBPS, plans for English learners, students with disabilities and academic recovery. Presentations lack vital details but are adorned with clenched Black-power fists.

Equity and anti-racism mean that historically marginalized communities, including Black, Latino, students with disabilities and English Learners would have what they need.

The “achievement gap” that BPS Superintendent Brenda Cassellius promised to close in her superintendent interviews is the long and ongoing result of historic inequity and racism in BPS. At community and School Committee meetings, families have waited through the “guidance” of vaccines and mask wearing to hear the very narrow details of how a student would qualify for medically related online learning. Almost a déja vu of unpreparedness, what has been missing is what the vast majority of parents and educators are worried about: What are the flexible options for the weeks after a child, family or educator test positive for COVID, is exposed, or has mild cold-like symptoms that are not COVID? Can they still learn and attend online and shouldn’t need to have more disruptions to education? Yet those plans were not presented.

Families were also told that there is a bus driver and monitor shortage which would impact how students got to school. Missing from the announcement were details about who was being most impacted, or more importantly, how BPS was going to ensure everyone was going to get to school. Instead, we received the regular mantra from central office staff saying they were “developing a plan.”

As “equity” and “accountability” become shadows of their former selves, the latest effort to hide the lagging hard work is also most evident in which communities are prioritized in school facility decisions. BuildBPS was supposed to be a comprehensive, 10-year capital plan for school renovations and new buildings, but it has turned into more cloudy explanations and decisions that are racist and inequitable.

Schools with the highest number of Black and Latino students, students with disabilities and English learners, including the McKinley Schools and Madison Park, are nowhere on the list. School communities like the Jackson/Mann and Horace Mann Schools have been slated to close but will remain in their buildings for another year. In the case of the Horace Mann, the Edwards school was promised as swing space, but the promise was withdrawn because it had also been promised to affluent Charlestown families. Then, as a result of intense advocacy by Horace Mann families, BPS shared that they would be using the Edwards as temporary space after all.

The McCormack and Boston Community Leadership Academy students, mostly Latino, were promised renovations to accommodate their merger, but those renovations have fallen incredibly short.

Through all of these decisions, no equity analyses have been completed, no assessments of the impact on school communities and feeder patterns, no financial report or even the designation of swing space for all these disruptions. In October, Nate Kuder, BPS chief financial officer also overseeing this major capital work, will discuss the closure of the Timilty and Irving schools, both majority Latino. With the inequitable broken promises of the last two years, “equity” and “anti-racism” have become hollowed out.

The racism extends from the building decisions to the books. With 1 in 5 BPS students having an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), the Special Education Department without a strategic plan, and English learner services being underfunded in BPS Central office budget allocations, federal ESSER funding should have a clear priority of student-facing staff. At ESSER Commission meetings, Cassellius’ team pitched “Science of Reading,” a program that looks at theory, when what school communities needed to hear was where literacy coaches will be deployed to work with students and support educators directly.

BPS central office leadership has become the sad example of working harder but not smarter, at the cost of our children’s education, and now their health, in one of the most critical times of recuperating and reopening. Cassellius and her central Office leadership have turned equity and anti-racism into a marketing tool while BPS families sit on Zoom meetings waiting for some direction and detail in the vague slideshows.

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