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Community summit in Boston

Hundreds meet to fight for quality education

Published Jul 8, 2010 10:16 PM

More than 200 parents, students, teachers, school bus drivers, custodians and community activists came together to say “No!” to the Boston School Department and the city’s plans to gut public schools and return to racist segregated “neighborhood” schools.

Audience participation was strong at the
community summit in Boston.
WW photo: Steve Kirschbaum

They gathered at a Fight Back summit at the Reggie Lewis Track and Field Center at Roxbury Community College here on June 23 to confront the plans that would deprive Black and Latino communities of quality educational resources. Participants agreed they would come to the follow-up meeting on July 7 at the Reggie Lewis Center at 6:30 p.m. to continue planning actions.

Boston City Councilor Chuck Turner’s political orientation emphasized that the schools in the Black and Latin communities of Roxbury, Dorchester and Mattapan and the public schools as a whole are underfunded. He said the solution had to go beyond Boston’s resources, and pointed out that full and expanded funding for education could be easily achieved by a reduction in the Pentagon budget.

The city and the School Department provoked this protest with their plans to close public schools; expand private, for-profit charter schools; lay off school workers, including 40 custodians; and limit parental access to schools and programs not in their immediate neighborhood — all of which are segregated. These plans would also drastically reduce transportation services to special education students, who would lose the door-to-door transportation they need to get to school.

Organized by the Coalition for Equal Quality Education, which distributed 20,000 leaflets, the summit drew broad community participation and representation from dozens of organizations.

Summit co-chairs, Boston Public School teacher Jose Lopez of the Coalition for Equal Quality Education and Barbara Fields of Black Educators Alliance of Massachusetts, both condemned the School Department’s plans to hold small focus groups, each composed of 15 invited parents and students, simultaneously around the city. By refusing broad open public meetings to get input and response to the plans, the department was in effect denying parents and students a genuine voice.

The bulk of the summit entailed lively floor discussion. The first segment shared information on how the School Department’s plans would harm the community. The second segment discussed actions to stop these plans.

Linda Freeman of the Special Education Parents Advisory Council gave an impassioned appeal about how cutting transportation would devastate access to programs for special-needs students.

Sasha De La Cruz of El Movimiento told how planned cuts would undermine the needs of English language learners.

Union calls for canceling debt service

Recording Secretary Andre Francois of the Boston School Bus Drivers Union read a statement signed by the full executive board of the union calling for putting the needs of education of the students ahead of the $137.5 million in debt service paid to the banks. This debt service amounts to 5.5 percent of the city budget.

The union statement, which was distributed to all present, also attacked layoffs and the department’s strategy of blaming teachers, paraprofessionals, custodians, bus drivers and monitors, food service workers, and students for “under-performing” schools. It pointed out that the schools have been underfunded and deprived of resources needed for success.

The union also condemned the move to go backward to the racist segregated neighborhood schools of the past, denying the parents and students of Roxbury, Dorchester and Mattapan access to quality schools and educational opportunities. It expressed solidarity with all those ready to “draw the line and march on the powers that be to stop layoffs, stop privatization, and stop the assaults on our children’s rights to an Equal, Quality Education.”

Richard Stutman, president of the Boston Teachers Union, and David Jelley, president of the Custodians’ union, also spoke.

Ed Childs of UNITE HERE Local 26, chief shop steward of the cafeteria workers at Harvard University, described how the workers there are also facing cutbacks, attacks and layoffs engineered by the banks, the same banks responsible for the university’s endowment having lost money. He pointed out that enough money for education and other needs can be found in the trillions in bail-out money given to the banks, and that the workers should demand it back.

Mary Jo Hetzel of Work for Quality, Fight for Equity discussed the history of the coalition in successfully fighting back against previous attempts by the School Department to curtail student choice by imposing neighborhood schools. She called on everyone to get involved to reverse the plans again as they did last year.

The Bail Out the People Movement, the Women’s Fight Back Network and the International Action Center also prepared and distributed a statement that described the fight against racist segregation in Boston since 1974. This included the history of the 25,000-strong national march against racism in Boston on Dec 14, 1974. The statement said mass action in the streets is needed again to stop the drive to return to the racist past.

The June 23 community summit was endorsed by City Councilors Chuck Turner and Charles Yancey; Steelworkers Local 8751, Boston School Bus Drivers; IUPAT Local 1952 - Boston School Custodians; Richard Stutman, president, Boston Teachers Union; the Black Educators Alliance of Massachusetts; the Women’s Fightback Network; Oganizasyon Fanmi Lavalas Boston; the youth group Fight Imperialism, Stand Together; Workers World Party; The Most Rev. Filipe Teixeira, OFSJC; and many others.