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Many voice concern over O’Bryant move to West Roxbury

Lack of diversity, longer commutes and distance from city supports cited

Tanisha Bhat

Parents, students and teachers expressed a litany of concerns about a proposal by Mayor Michelle Wu and Superintendent Mary Skipper to relocate the John D. O’Bryant School of Mathematics and Science to the West Roxbury Education Complex. 

A total of 56 speakers highlighted their views during the general public comment portion of the Boston School Committee meeting last week. 

Most of them said they worried about the lack of diversity, longer commute times for students and distance from nearby universities that support city students — if the O’Bryant moved from its current home on Malcolm X Boulevard to the far away site of the vacant West Roxbury Education Complex.

“Removing OB from Roxbury will remove the diversity and connection in the Boston community,” said Jaden Riley, a Dorchester resident and recent O’Bryant graduate. “Our school resides in a neighborhood of minorities and diversity. Having OB in Roxbury has given students an opportunity to showcase intelligence, skills and talents.” 

Rahul Dhanda, a parent of two students at O’Bryant, lambasted the proposal as lacking transparency and being “hostile” towards diversity. He and others complained that the city did not properly inform residents before unveiling their proposal — which is counter to the Wu administration’s pledge for greater transparency. 

“The mayor’s own green New Deal has a racial equity toolkit in the Office of the Superintendent, stressing both transparency and centering voices of a diverse population. It has been ignored [in this case],” he said. “West Roxbury school enrollment vastly overrepresents white students and underrepresents others, especially Black and Hispanic students. Educators may be lost in the move.”

Parents repeatedly stressed their concerns about the lack of accessible transportation and said they feared their children would be potentially spending hours commuting to school each day. 

“(Students from) East Boston would need to wake up at 5 a.m. to make it to school on time, even if there is an Eastie to West Roxbury shuttle,” said Betsy Yoshimura, an East Boston parent of two students, who added that moving the O’Bryant would lead to decreasing access to high-quality education for so many students who are unable to commute to West Roxbury. 

Nicolette Pocius, an environmental science teacher at O’Bryant, added that long commute times would also affect whether students could participate in afterschool activities, essential for college-bound students.

“How are those students going to get to and from school, especially students who do clubs or do sports? Are we going to have constant shuttles running?” she asked. “You’re going to lose those after-school opportunities. So many students are important to their families as childcare providers. Moving our school to West Roxbury takes away that opportunity for education.”

Nora Paul-Schultz, a physics teacher at O’Bryant, emphasized the importance of the school’s current proximity to universities and hospitals, particularly ones that would affect students’ STEM education.

“Students are able to do dual enrollment in multiple universities, including having a math class co-taught by Wentworth professors,’’ she said. “Students are able to do internships and work at hospitals like Dana-Farber and Brigham. If we moved to West Roxbury, all of this would be harder.”

Paul-Schultz urged the school committee to find an alternative location within Roxbury that would allow the school to expand its student body without losing these key partnerships.

The issue was not on the school committee’s agenda last week. However, committee chairwoman Jeri Robinson addressed attendees before their comments, stressing that the potential O’Bryant relocation is only a proposal and that the community engagement process is only beginning.

“The school committee takes very seriously our responsibility to consider this proposal,’’ Robinson said. “Those who support and those against, we have to ask ourselves what’s the right thing to do for our children … This must be at the center of all of our decisions for all of our students.”

Wu and Skipper announced their initiative earlier this month with the aim of providing city-owned high school facilities such as gymnasiums, auditoriums and lab spaces. The proposal would add college coursework, such as Advanced Placement classes.

O’Bryant shares its current school building with Madison Park Vocational Technical High School. The proposal would allow Madison Park to expand the number of courses and the size of its student body.

The total cost of the renovation of the West Roxbury complex and the timeline of the project have not been announced. Wu said renovations will potentially begin as early as 2025.