Ok, ok folks. Break is over. Time to get back to work.
In the run up to Christmas, you may have heard a glorious joyful noise coming from Jamaica Plain and West Roxbury right before everyone checked out for the holidays.
No, it wasn’t Santa’s jolly giggle and the reindeer on the roof — it was (mostly) white parents celebrating the defeat of proposed changes to start times at Boston Public Schools.
Boston Public Schools likely caved to threats by parents to disrupt Mayor Marty Walsh’s inauguration ceremonies featuring everyone’s favorite — Joe Biden — a move that certainly would have changed the narrative around Marty’s big moment.
And honestly, most knew the decision was destined to fail from the start. As I mentioned from the beginning of the start time controversy, the problem wasn’t necessarily with the policy itself, but the roll out and a failure to engage parents in a meaningful way — while attempting to implement a massive policy change that would impact 87% of Boston Public Schools families at once.
In the weeks following the controversy, I’ve spoken with many veteran superintendents from some of the biggest school systems in the country who all agreed — this was a fumble of the first order. School start times are the third rail of policy changes — and if it has to be done, it should be done slowly — and with a major public relations tour BEFORE the announcement is made.
All that being said, the issue is tabled — at least from now.
But the situation ended up being more than a squabble about what time the bell would ring — but a power struggle and racial divide that continues to grow in the Hub.
Here are the facts: White children are only a small percentage of the overall population of Boston Public Schools. Latino children are roughly 42% of the population and African American families are about 30%. Yet according to an analysis by the Boston Globe, Latino and African American families bear a disproportionate share of the burden of the unfavorable start times.
From the Boston Globe editorial on start times:
“According to a BPS survey, parents ranked start times between 8 and 8:30 a.m. as most desirable. Under the current system, white elementary school children disproportionately avoid undesirable schedules. Only 10 percent start school before 8 a.m., compared with 31 percent and 27 percent of blacks and Latino elementary school students, respectively.
The new schedule reduces those stark disparities, meaning white families are hit hardest. More elementary school children of all races will start class earlier, but the percentage of white children with pre-8 a.m. start times would increase almost fivefold, compared to smaller increases in the percentage of black and Latino kids. BPS could hardly have made such a major change without considering its racial impact.”
So while some may call this a “victory” — who was the victory actually for?
And now that white families have gotten the outcome they wanted — what happens next?
As I watched this unfold, I witnessed a bizarre effort to organize parents. Because it wasn’t just about parents, it was about getting the “RIGHT” parents heard.
At first, the Latino parents of MPU seemed welcome to join in to voice their concerns, but the moment they started to stray away from the approved white parent talking points, they were unceremoniously dismissed. Some of our MPU parents actually started saying that they were looking forward to better start times for their children — or expressing greater concern about other issues impacting their children in the system — including inequity in terms of parent voice and Latino representation in the district.
I’ll tell you this much: I have literally spent years talking with thousands of parents across Massachusetts — including thousands right in the city of Boston — asking them what issues really concerned them the most. I don’t speak for them unless they ask me to — and they are more than capable of speaking for themselves. I’m happy to tell you exactly what parents think because I’ve literally done the work of asking them and … LISTENING TO THEM.
One of the white parent leaders even wrote to me asking me to take my blog down talking about the “mixed reviews” the start times received because they had circulated a survey to 15 East Boston parents that lined up favorably to the white parent talking points. They also directed me to the “East Boston Schools Family Coalition” which now boasts about 26 likes and showcases a survey with incredibly poor Spanish translation (Obviously negating the conversations Massachusetts Parents United has had over the span of more than a year. Really?) The same person actually had the audacity to ask me to “stop making this about race.”
No longer of use to the white parents, they were pushed off — and there was a bizarre effort to quickly organize “parents of color” who would be willing to bleat out the white parent talking points.
The problem extends to other social justice organizations as well. Now, I may have missed it, and please correct me if I did — but I don’t recall the NAACP or the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice hosting a forum or a public discussion where parents were welcomed to share their perspective on how they felt about the state of community or parent engagement.
But they were able to score an article in the Boston Herald threatening legal action over a lack of engagement over the start time issue.
“One thing that is coming down the pike is the possibility of litigation,” said Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal, the executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice. “That could be possible if BPS does not meet community demands and doesn’t develop policies and protocols surrounding issues of racial equity, access to education for immigrant students and community involvement.”
Now, don’t get me wrong, I like Ivan a lot — but the article itself kind of made me laugh. I mean, out of all of the things that Latino parents are concerned about — you think that a lack of engagement around the school start times is the one they are most concerned about?
Just to be clear:
We have gigantic achievement gaps between white children and children of color in schools across the city. Major issues around disciplinary procedures and equity.
We have schools that have zero percent proficiency on the fifth grade science assessments for students of color or those coming from families with lower incomes.
We have parents crying out for better solutions around the programming for our students with special needs and the IEP process being completely inaccessible for many parents.
We have parents concerned about the weaponization of the Department of Children and Families against them to the point that they refuse to engage with our schools.
And you think the thing parents are fired up about — I mean, truly fired up about as their number one issue — to the point that we are threatening lawsuits — is a lack of engagement around school start times?
So what’s next? We’ll see. Chances are we won’t see much more unless BPS does something else to piss off the white folks again.
I’d love to be proved wrong.