Real Action, Not Just Words, Needed in Boston

Boston, I love you, but we need to talk.

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Sure, this immigration situation is a disaster. We’ll get to that in a minute.

Let’s not fool ourselves into thinking Boston Superintendent Tommy Chang is leaving because immigrant families are suing the city.  

I’d guess the minute Chang pissed off white families by changing their bell times his goose was cooked. I mean, we know this, right?

Throughout his three year tenure, Chang was made into the scapegoat for almost every political/education misstep BPS took during Marty Walsh’s first term. But let’s get real here, it’s not like Tommy was given much room to get the work done.

(Make no mistake, school start times need to be changed — and Chang didn’t handle the roll out well. But he also got zero support from the administration.)

Let’s face facts: while he offered visionary leadership, Walsh’s fear over making the wrong moves completely crippled Chang’s ability to create the real change we all said we wanted.

The guy even created a shadow Superintendent in his very own office — I mean seriously? How was anything supposed to get done? Who is in charge?

Don’t cry for Tommy — he’s a supremely talented leader and educator who will land on his feet in a matter of weeks. (Hopefully he’ll take the summer off — Lord knows he’s been put through the wringer with us.) When he actually gets the chance to be a real superintendent, no doubt he’ll be fantastic.

Now our real problem is convincing someone to take the Boston job. Yesterday on WBUR former Massachusetts Secretary of Education Paul Reville painted a beautiful picture of the district — it’s a high performing district with a ton of money — a dream gig!

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But let’s get real: everyone in the country knows it’s a political nightmare and politics will trump what’s best for kids every time. Who the hell is signing up for that? Tommy Chang was barely able to move the needle in three years of attempting to push the boulder up the mountain — and caused plenty of political acrimony for Mayor Walsh just trying to get the simplest of things done.

The Transportation situation is a disaster.

The high schools are a hot mess, unless you’re a white kid.

The buildings and facilities are falling apart, but we can’t change or upgrade them.

We’ve got one of the worst achievement gaps in the nation — especially for latino children.

We’ve got the top performing charter schools in the nation in the city but we can’t collaborate or share best practices.

We’re going to need some brave, courageous leadership not only from the next Superintendent, but also from Mayor Walsh.

My guess? We get the opposite. Here’s hoping I’m wrong.

Now, for the BPS lawsuit.

Boston:  I know — it’s not your fault. You love immigrants. You’ve said all the right things and held all the right rallies and press conferences.

But can we get real for a second?

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Donald Trump literally does not care a minute about what you say. Not at all.

He will do what he wants, when he wants and to whomever he wants.

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That is why we need tangible action.

Not words.

We need you to do things. Specific things.

Like to stop entering student incident information into the BRIC system so that federal agencies can identify undocumented students and deport them.

What is the BRIC system? The Boston Regional Intelligence Center — a “nationally recognized urban area fusion center” — which is run out of the Bureau of Intelligence and Analysis inside the Boston Police Department — manages the coordination of information between the BPD, all levels of government and “private industry.”

The BRIC has co-located its analytical and investigative staff in a shared workspace.  Critical liaison personnel such as representatives from the Massachusetts State Police, Boston Emergency Medical Services, Boston Fire Department, Department of Homeland Security Office of Intelligence & Analysis, and Federal Bureau of Investigations Boston Field Office are also assigned to the Center.”

So like, DUH. A kid could potentially get into a fight in the cafeteria at school and instead of being handed a detention, he could end up deported back to El Salvador. No, that’s not why the BRIC system was created — it was created to prevent TERRORISM. But seeing how the federal government is now being run by a domestic terrorist, no holds are barred anymore.

So of course, no, the Boston Public Schools isn’t handing the feds lists of students who are undocumented. Why? Because lists like that don’t exist. BPS doesn’t ask that information, therefore, there’s no information to disclose.

But when the Boston Police Department is a constant presence in our schools, and when teachers and administrators lean on them to deal with disciplinary issues that could be handled in-house or helped by other organizations that could — and are frankly better equipped — to de-escalate minor situations, our children become criminalized and are put ask risk for the domestic terrorism that is the Trump administration.

Criminalizing students has been an on-going crisis happening all over the state, including in Boston:

“Consistent with a national trend addressed in new federal guidance, Massachusetts students formerly disciplined in house are now cuffed, arrested, and charged with crimes for minor misbehaviors in significant numbers. A Brockton youth with a good disciplinary record was arrested and charged with “assault with a deadly weapon” for accidentally (as the principal acknowledged) hitting a teacher with a tossed candy, causing no injury. In Taunton and Springfield, students were arrested for using bad language, slamming doors, or merely being obnoxious.”

And:

School personnel that ask often-reluctant police officers to arrest unruly students may find their lives made momentarily easier, but the costs for their added comfort are extraordinary. Any case leading to a court appearance results in a damaging criminal record, even if the charge is ultimately dismissed following initial court appearance.”

Boston is making SOME progress. But not enough. So cases and court appearances = legal status as a topic of discussion.

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Yesterday Superintendent Chang released a very emotional statement yesterday resulting to many of his fans across the country to jump to his defense. And while I can appreciate Chang’s emotional reaction to the situation, the facts are the facts. Guidelines came in MARCH.

In addition, BPS in March instituted a new district policy that provides strict guidelines on how Boston School Police officers provide school police reports to law enforcement authorities, including the Boston Regional Intelligence Center. BPS will continue to work with advocacy organizations around this issue.

But please note: Boston first became a sanctuary city in 2014. Reaffirming this in 2016 and 2017. What does “SANCTUARY CITY” really mean?

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Here’s what the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice had to say to the New York Times:

“Matthew Cregor, a staff attorney with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice, one of the plaintiffs in the suit, said that while the committee was focused on city policy and not on Mr. Chang, his letter nonetheless raised concern. “There are exceptions to federal education privacy laws that allow for some information sharing,” he said, but the letter suggests “the city is speaking out of both sides of its mouth.”

We agree.

Aside from the legal back and forth, we really fundamentally need all of you to understand: families are under attack. They are not just living in fear, they are being actively terrorized by the Trump administration. Terrorized.

How do I know this? We’re there. Last week when news broke that BPS was being sued, I was literally standing in front of a room surrounded by 60 undocumented families at the Boston Public Library because we were about to have a conversation about nutrition, food security and how to come up with healthy food options in the middle of Boston’s food deserts.

(Talking with these families is not a novelty. We don’t call on them when there’s a crisis and suddenly we need to coax them out of the shadows. Massachusetts Parents United is with them, as a part of their community, every single day.)

When our elected officials stand in front of us and tell us that we can trust in them, that Boston is a sanctuary city — that has to mean something. There are actual lives on the line.

It’s organizations like Massachusetts Parents United that vouch for you. We tell our members and families that they can trust the city government. That they can trust the schools. That’s they are different. That Marty Walsh is not Donald Trump. That it’s ok to trust YOU.

When we got the confirmation that this was real, that the rumors we had heard and discussed in MPU meetings over the last three months about ICE getting information via BPS/BPD, I wanted to throw up. I started texting city councilors and other community leaders, questioning whether I should end the meeting right then and there.

Because first and foremost, I am responsible for the safety of our members. These are community leaders who trust me when I say we can meet together at the Boston Public Library and that this is a safe space. That they can bring their children and come together in community because their voices are valuable and needed. That they don’t have the stay in the shadows.

We have invited them to this public place. A city-run facility. And told them it was safe. Do I even know that this place is safe? In the age of Trump what does safe even mean anymore?

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Oh, you think I’m being melodramatic?

Trump is taking babies. Literally ripping babies from the arms of their mothers.

Babies.

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Anything is possible.

So to our friends in government, I say this:

We appreciate your beautiful statements. Your words of support. Your hugs and solidarity. But what we need is your action. We need your best thinking. We need you to hold the line.

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If you are coordinating with the federal government — through any agreement, any context, for any reason, at any time — you need to do a thorough and thoughtful examination of every single system and determine whether you are KNOWINGLY or UNKNOWINGLY putting the lives of immigrant families at risk.

It doesn’t matter if you’ve had these relationships and have worked collaboratively with these agencies for years. They are no longer friends. They work for Donald Trump and do his bidding. The times have changed and so must we.

And please:

START TRUSTING IMMIGRANT VOICES AND ORGANIZATIONS. It is not a SURPRISE THAT THIS IS HAPPENING. The City of Boston — and OTHER CITIES — have been told that this is a possibility. Start listening to your allies and other supporters — not just talking AT THEM.

So again, we ask: Whose side are you on, Boston?

Stand with immigrant families or don’t. But let us know where you stand. Really.

 

What do you think?

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