So last night we held a meeting for Massachusetts Parents United members in East Boston with Superintendent Tommy Chang, Boston Chief of Schools Rahn Dorsey and many member of the BPS senior leadership team. And the outcome was somewhat interesting.
After a week chock full of contentious meetings filled with parents expressing their outrage over school start times, I expected this particular meeting to be a barn burner filled with a lot of emotion. Only it wasn’t.
What was different about the MPU meeting, frankly, are our demographics. We’re Latino. And it being our December membership meeting, it was a group of really engaged parents who are leaders in their neighborhoods. But while parents certainly wanted to talk about the start times and what it would mean for their children, they had a whole host of other issues they wanted to discuss that they felt were much more important. (Including helping children coming from Puerto Rico, improving cultural competency between the district and the Latino community and how they could get more involved in the process.) And in fact, while some had concerns, a good chunk of them liked the changes being proposed.
Now, I have a whole bunch of questions about the new start times that stem from making sure we are thinking through some of the logistical issues that will come up for parents who will need to make adjustments. And I certainly have some major concerns about how this was pitched to parents — and I’m hoping that Superintendent Chang and other education leaders across the country can point to this as a learning experience around the difference between attempting outreach to parents versus true engagement and how that can cause political static.
Personally, I certainly had a visceral reaction to the imposing of such an incredible change on parents without adequate feedback on the actual proposed times and the process, but now I’m not convinced that every parent in Boston is against the idea of changing times because of one major reason: I’m listening to what parents are actually saying. And not just the white parents who are accustomed to “wanting to speak to the manager” but instead, MPU members, who demographically are more representative than the angry mob we saw at the Boston School Committee this week. (And as an MPU member pointed out last night, Latinos are 44% of BPS.)
I am not the only observer who found it awkward listening to “parents of privilege” attempting to represent Latino families in their school communities while watching them hold signs in Spanish that were obviously (and tragically) boasting slogans fresh from Google Translate. Oof.
Or listening to a painful piece on WBUR’s Radio Boston featuring a white parent threatening to just “leave the district” if her start times were changed — without being called out for having the privilege of being able to make such a choice for her children because of her access to resources. The majority of BPS parents don’t have the luxury of pulling their kids out of the system and choosing an alternative (be that a charter school, a private school or moving to another zip code.) It literally made me wince. I don’t know a lot of parents living that life.
Yesterday we also saw a very strongly worded statement from the NAACP and the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice releasing a statement on behalf of parents as well — but I’m also unsure of how they came to their conclusion. I didn’t hear of any NAACP/LCCREJ parent forum being held to engage parents of color before coming to this conclusion to listen to what they think of all of this — but I’d like to hear that this actually happened before speaking for them.
All of this to say, I think we really need a moment to pause and reflect to make sure we’re not making the same mistake we usually do — which is catering to a small group of white parents claiming to speak on behalf of the majority. And I want to encourage all parents to attend the meetings in the coming weeks that will allow parents from all parts of the community to come and let their voices be heard. Latino parents are more than capable of speaking for themselves — so let’s actually listen to THEM.