Racist Boston school plan protested by oppressed communities

Bus driver union leaders Steve Kirschbaum and Andre Francois, June 2.Photo: Howard Rotman

Bus driver union leaders Steve Kirschbaum and Andre Francois, June 2.
Photo: Howard Rotman

Hundreds of angry African-American, Latino/a and Haitian parents and Boston school bus drivers filled Roxbury’s Madison Park High School on June 2. They were there to protest the unelected Boston School Committee’s decision to end middle school bus transportation and place mostly children of color on public transportation buses.

Chanting “Fight, fight, fight! Transportation’s a union right!” Najma Nazyat, director of the Boston Youth Organizing Project, condemned the policy at a hearing convened only after the appointed school committee had already voted to end 40 years of bussing for more than 4,500 students. “The whole point is to save money by getting rid of the buses!” she shouted to the receptive and angry crowd.

The Boston School Department, through its school bus contractor, the union-busting Veolia Corp., is seeking to eliminate school bus rides, return the school system to its pre-1974, racist, “neighborhood school” assignment plan, and bust the school bus drivers union, United Steel Workers Local 8751, as part of a strategy to rip away over 40 years of anti-racist progress in Boston.

In 1974, federal Judge Arthur Garrity desegregated the Boston school system using several remedies, including busing to provide students of color access to better schools with more resources. Some of the bus drivers at the hearing this night safely drove students past stone-throwing, racist white parents during that era.

Dozens of parents, teachers and supporters spoke against the policy, while no one voiced support. Ayele Shakur, representing the Boston branch of the NAACP, declared how unsafe the new policy would be to school children because the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority bus system has decided to install plexiglass barriers to protect bus drivers from the public.

Former bus union president, Garry Murchison, who was illegally terminated with three other union leaders last year, pointed out to the audience that young school children would be walking to and from buses in the darkness during parts of the school year, imposing yet another unsafe condition on them.

Union bus driver Grievance Committee chair, Steve Kirschbaum, one of the illegally fired union leaders, brought the crowd to its feet when he exhorted, “In 1974, 25,000 of us marched in Boston to stop segregated schools. It’s time to put our marching shoes back on again!” Kirschbaum was among a core group of Workers World Party and Youth Against War and Fascism activists who organized the historic 1974 “Emergency March against Racism” which effectively stopped Boston’s racist school system.

The gathering ended with Boston City Councilor Tito Jackson pledging to work to have the Boston City Council veto the new school policy.

Boston’s communities of color mobilized the turnout at the meeting. Speakers were from the Coalition for Equal Quality Education, Mothers for Justice and Equality, Boston School Bus Drivers Union USWA 8751, the NAACP, the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and Justice, Black Educators Alliance of Massachusetts, the Boston Youth Organizing Project, Jobs with Justice, the Boston Truth Coalition, the IWW and other groups and individuals.