City Council opposes moving O’Bryant School
Opponents voice concern over lack of parental input, limited transportation options
Mayor Michelle Wu’s plans to move the John D. O’Bryant School of Math and Science from its current location in Roxbury to the former West Roxbury Education Complex were met with stiff opposition last week as students, parents, faculty and city councilors spoke out against the move.
Members of the O’Bryant School community demonstrated on the evening of Dec. 5 outside of City Hall before heading into a City Council hearing on the proposed move. The next day, the council passed a resolution opposing the move.
The proposal is part of the Wu administration’s Green New Deal facilities plan for Boston Public Schools, a pledge to spend $2 billion constructing new buildings and upgrading existing ones. In June, Wu announced the plan to move the O’Bryant from the Malcolm X Boulevard complex it currently shares with Madison Park Vocational Technical High School. The announcement appeared to blindside many in the school community.
“The proposal to move our school to a remote location with limited transportation options already has many parents thinking of transferring their middle school children,” said O’Bryant parent Krista Magnuson, speaking during the Tuesday City Council hearing.
Magnuson noted that 1,600 people have signed a petition against the move.
Wu’s deputy chief of policy, Tali Robbins, acknowledged that members of the O’Bryant School community were not notified or consulted in advance of the June announcement.
“When the mayor and the superintendent [Mary Skipper] made the proposal public in June, that was really the beginning of a public engagement process,” she said.
BPS’ chief of capital planning, Delavern Stanislaus, told councilors that the school department has held seven meetings with parents at the site of the former West Roxbury Education Complex, which the School Committee voted to close in 2018 after the city’s Inspectional Services Department deemed the building unsafe.
Wu told reporters and community members the city would renovate the 14-acre West Roxbury site, creating a building that would accommodate 2,000 students in grades seven to 12. The O’Bryant currently has 1,567 students enrolled.
Parents, teachers and city councilors questioned whether the West Roxbury complex is an appropriate site for an exam school that draws students from across the city, including many from East Boston, Allston and Brighton.
Speaking during the rally at City Hall, Karmelo Howe, who graduated from the O’Bryant last year, told the Banner the West Roxbury location would have made it impossible for him to attend.
“During my stay at the O’Bryant, I had to move a lot due to family circumstances,” he said. “The school’s central location made it accessible, no matter where I was staying. If the school was in West Roxbury, it would have been a struggle to get there, depending on where I was staying.”
The West Roxbury Education Complex sits close to the city’s border with Dedham on the West Roxbury Parkway. While city officials are proposing yellow bus service from the Forest Hills Station, activists said such an arrangement would not help parents get to the school for meetings with teachers, or students who arrive late.
O’Bryant teacher Aparna Lakshmi noted that West Roxbury High School had yellow bus service when it opened in 1977, but the district cut the service because of the cost.
“The reality is that busing will get too expensive,” she said. “West Roxbury never made sense as a citywide high school.”
Lakshmi and others said they would rather see the O’Bryant’s current site renovated. She said that in the seven-building campus that currently houses the O’Bryant and Madison Park schools, buildings three, five and six were shown as available sites for a school in a July draft of the Madison Park Redesign plan.
“When the final draft was released … strangely, buildings three, five and six were no longer earmarked as available,” she said.
Much of the criticism of the city’s plans revolved around the lack of parent input. At-large Councilor Julia Mejia, who attended the rally and presided over the City Council hearing, told parents and faculty gathered outside City Hall, “Nothing about us, without us, is for us.”
Longtime education advocate John Mudd noted that the city released its plan for the O’Bryant without disclosing what its long-term plans are for school facilities.
“It’s been years we’ve been asking the school department, ‘Don’t just come at us with individual plans,’” he said. “We want to see systemwide plans. We’ve had it. We can’t allow this to continue.”
On Dec. 6, the Council voted 9-2 in support of a nonbinding resolution opposing the O’Bryant School relocation.