Last year, DigBoston and the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism examined an issue in Arlington in which a member of the police department used disparaging language against immigrants and other groups. The response was significant—not just from those who appreciated our investigation, led by Arlington resident and journalist Laura Kiesel, but also from those who agreed with the comments made by the offending officer. The latter responded with threatening behavior and made attempts on several fronts to silence those who spoke out against racial intolerance.
Earlier this week, we were made aware of the latest disagreement driving a wedge between residents of Arlington, a town where thousands of Dig readers live and that we consider within our coverage area. Late last month, Arlington School Committee Member and candidate for reelection Paul Schlichtman published a contentious letter on his website about disparities in schools. The piece spurred a debate, also running in part on YourArlington.com. But while that site has published several letters rebutting Schlichtman’s research, we were dismayed to learn that one letter, written by three parents and endorsed by more than 40 others, was not published. We shared it below.
(Update: Following our publishing the letter below, YourArlington also published it. Furthermore, we published a rebuttal from Paul Schlichtman.)
We are writing this response to Mr. Schlichtman’s letters “Schlichtman fact-checks debate claims about racial gap,” recently published in Your Arlington. Mr. Schlictman’s statistical counter to Lynette Martyn’s (newcomer School Committee candidate) debate statements narrowed in to select aspects of racial equity topics showing APS as, perhaps, further along in eliminating achievement gaps.
This tactic is a common reaction because we would all feel better if those gaps did not exist. But this explanation, for some populations in Arlington, just reflects a systemic refusal to see topics that directly impact our students.
As parents and caregivers of children of color in the APS schools, it is not uncommon for us to pause and wonder whether it is a good idea to keep our children in APS. The answer to such a question is derived from the experiences of the children and their families in APS and are highly individual. Ideally, no family would need to confront this decision in the middle of their child’s education. All parents enter APS with the hope of a well-rounded education and a safe community.
We enter with the expectation that our children can attend school without the need to seek alternative school placements. However, this is not the reality.
We recognize the hard work and commitment by the School Committee and their statisticians and data analysis, but the numbers do not always reflect the full experience of all of our students. When the needs of students with academic and social-emotional challenges are not met it can leave the families of some students of color feeling like leaving APS is their only choice. This choice is often based on a combination of factors that include being subjected to unaddressed microaggressions and disparities in achievement and discipline. Based on our experiences this transition happens before high school. Mr. Schlictman’s analysis excludes the portion of the population that exited APS before high school.
In his letter, Mr. Schlichtman referenced data that supports the idea that Arlington Public School is adequately serving its economically disadvantaged students, linguistically diverse students, and students of color. In some areas and at some grade levels the idea that Arlington is doing right by their students is true. It is also true that within Arlington Public Schools some sub-groups at different grade levels are not being adequately educated. Mr. Schlichtman’s choice of facts and data selectively point out high points, while ignoring areas in need of growth.
For example, in grades 3-8 African American students, students with disabilities, and high needs students consistently achieve at a lower rate than their white peers and the district as a whole. If a child has not had a successful K-8 experience, it seems more likely that they would leave the system before high school.
Disciplining of African Americans within APS schools provides yet another example where the data speaks to the inequitable education provided within the district. This has been highlighted to school committee members and school administrators multiple times by many. We are aware of DIG sending this letter to School Committee members for example. Direct connection of such disparate disciplinary practices can be realized in these students’ academic progress and in their emotional well-being. There are some recent examples within APS where white students have committed actions and activities that warrant disciplinary actions (eg. vaping, graffiti, hate speech) and oftentimes in such cases, the school responds with a constructive learning program instead of actions that result in a disciplinary record.
This is the desired state as such a record has a lot to do with the future prospects of the students and the youth years are a lot about learning. However, the needs of the African American students are not attended to and when they violate school rules, the preferred action is to consistently assign detentions/suspensions.
Parents have attempted to bring up these disparities in achievement and discipline in the form of conversations with principals and emails to the superintendent’s office and school committee with little to no response. It is our hope that all school committee members and candidates attend to all students’ needs and also give voice to parents whose concerns have not been adequately addressed thus far. Mr. Schlichtman’s choice of facts continues to marginalize the needs of certain students and their families.
We, the parents of some of these overlooked students have repeatedly requested topics like this to be discussed openly and transparently with facts at the district level. APS, the School Committee, and related organizations have not attended to these requests, at best acknowledging that there are problems and work that needs to be done districtwide. What seems to be missing is a strategy for identifying the problem, brainstorming solutions, solution-seeking, and providing a multifaceted plan for implementation. We need school committee members that are willing to listen to different stakeholders and to all community members in an effort to enhance the educational experience for all students attending APS. We respectfully ask that Mr. Schlictman and members of the School Committee consider all of the data and the individual experiences of families before asserting that racial disparities and achievement gaps do not exist within Arlington Public Schools.
Inae Hwang, Coleman Rd.
Jon’s Cardoso Quincy St
Chris DiMeo, Park Ave.
Robert Saoud, Park Ave.
Lisa L. Treadwell
Greg & Lisa Treadwell Florence Ave
Katell Guellec, Thomas Street
Ashley Shimabukuro – Wollaston Ave
Caitlin Sweeney Grandview Rd
Jacqueline Moquin-Vaudo – Oakland Ave
Paivi Albaiti, Cutter Hill Rd, Arlington
Ahmed Albaiti, Cutter Hill Rd, Arlington
Claire Johnson Wright Street
Kristin Chalmers Lorraine terrace
Rajeev Soneja Mary Street
Rebecca Persson; Fremont Street
Laura Kiesel Mass Avenue
Manisha Sharma, 13 Mary St., Arlington, MA
Chandreyee Das, Yerxa Road
Paula Jordan, 40 Windsor St
Bob Santosuosso, 40 Windsor St
Suzie Talukdar White, Concord Turnpike
Samaiyah Farid Brattle Street
Tasia Gentry, Russell Place
Sandra Zuckerman, Daniels Street
Mia Kiistala, orient avenue
Kristina Fontanez, Scituate Street
Kathy Le, Park Ave. Ext.
Anni, Orient Ave
Hannah Bluhm, Orient Ave
Emily James / Grandview
Tasia Gentry, Russell Place
Raquel Boudreau, Broadway
Laura Gitelson, Bow Street, Pct 17 TM Member
Heather Phelps Pond Lane
Sheryl Cohn Johnson Rd.
Jenny Volkert Park Ave. Extension
Guy Fleurant, 133 Newland Rd, Arlington MA 02474
Naoka Carey, Scituate Street
Linda Kang, Beacon St.