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Community labor coalition sets back resegregation plan

Published Jun 11, 2009 8:31 PM

On June 3, a strong demonstration of some 300 parents, teachers, students, school bus drivers and community activists stormed a meeting of the Boston School Committee, forcing the committee to backpedal on its City-Hall-authored “5 zone” plan for school resegregation. The demonstration was organized by the Coalition for Equal Quality Education, whose organizing has caused the School Committee to put off a planned vote three times now.

Protesters say no to ‘5 zone’ plan June 3.
WW photo: Liz Green

The June 3 protest was the culmination of month-long actions to combat the mayor’s proposal to return to segregated “neighborhood” schools. These actions included a May 14 Community Summit of over 250 at Roxbury Community College, and a May 18 march from the Rafael Hernandez School and the Timilty School through the streets to a Boston Public Schools forum on the plan at the Lewis School, in the heart of Boston’s Black and Latina/o communities most impacted by the plan.

This spirited march was led by students, including kindergarten students marching and dancing. The marchers then took over the hearing.

Both schools would lose their citywide status under the “5 zone” plan. Over half of the students attending the schools now would no longer have access to them. Three of the five proposed zones, including the one with the largest Latina/o immigrant population, would have no access to any two-way bilingual program like that offered at the Hernandez School.

At the June 3 demonstration at the School Committee Headquarters, rank-and-file members of the School Bus Drivers Union, Steelworkers Local 8751, poured off buses from each of the yards throughout Boston to help form a militant picket line and rally outside. School Committee and city officials had to make their way through what the Boston Globe characterized as literal “public uproar,” given voice by a family of three generations of African-American women leading the crowd in chants of: “Say NO, say NO! Racism has got to go!”

The protesters carried placards with pictures of Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. together and Puerto Rican poet/activist Rafael Hernandez, proclaiming, “Say No to Racism in Education,” “Demand Equal Quality Education,” “We Bailed Out Wall St., Don’t Let Court St. Cut Funding for School St.,” and “5-Zone Plan = Segregation.”

As the officials’ meeting began, the demonstrators marched inside past security, stopping the proceedings in their tracks for 15 minutes. The crowd then completely surrounded the committee and filled every space of standing room. They spilled into the hall outside, chanting and holding their signs high for all to see. During the public comment section of the meeting, speaker after speaker blasted the “5 zone” plan.

The loudest cheers came at the comments of Maureen Skehan of the Women’s Fightback Network, a parent of a student at the Hernandez School and a member of the CEQE. Skehan said: “Mayor Menino’s five zone, neighborhood school plan is a huge leap backward to further segregated, unequal schools, and it should be withdrawn from consideration immediately. Right now, 56 percent of the students and parents at the Hernandez are trying to figure out what we will do when the mayor and his constables stand in our school’s door next year and say, ‘No, you can’t go here anymore!’ More than 10,000 children and their families face the same massive disruption. We demand the school committee not be apologists for Boston’s richest businesses and banks like Bank of America and Fidelity—starving public education while demanding trillion-dollar bailouts from the taxpayers. This money belongs in our schools and communities!”

School Superintendent Carol R. Johnson announced that based on the community feedback on June 3, the committee would not vote on the “5 zone” plan at its upcoming June 24 meeting but would rework it over the summer and present a revised plan in the fall and January 2010. Heartened by the night’s victory, speakers lined up for the next two hours to say that they will continue to mobilize parents and students in every school until the racist plan is finally withdrawn and defeated.

The CEQE includes the Black Educators Alliance of Massachusetts, Work for Quality-Fight for Equity, Steelworkers Local 8751, City Councilors Chuck Turner, Charles Yancey and Sam Yoon, the Powerful Students of CASH (Community Academy of Science and Health), the Bail Out the People Movement, the youth group Fight Imperialism, Stand Together, and other teachers, parents, students and activists.

Boston has been a battleground against racism in the schools since 1974, when African-American parents demanded equal education 20 years after the Supreme Court ruled segregation unconstitutional. It took a mass march of 25,000 against racism in Boston on Dec. 14, 1974, to turn the corner against the racist attacks on school buses transporting African-American students to schools in predominantly white neighborhoods.

Ever since then the city’s racist banking, business and political establishment have sought a return to the racist past. In 2004 the mayor launched a “task force” to develop a plan to return to “neighborhood schools,” but was forced to withdraw the plan by sustained, organized community opposition. He again pushed the issue in his 2008 State of the City address and has been pushing it ever since. Activists see the need to take it to the streets again to prevent a return to the racist, bigoted past.