Some of the many problems facing BPS and schools across the state
The Boston Parent Coalition for Academic Excellence is attempting to revive its lawsuit against Boston Public Schools for the latter’s exam school plan, even as the case awaits a hearing before the First Circuit Court of Appeals.
The parents want a court order blocking the City of Boston’s ability to suspend its annual exam school test, which occurred this year (due to the pandemic), but may possibly continue into the future. The group lost in federal court in April, but since then, new text messages were leaked from two former committee members that the group claims is proof that the committee was racially biased against white students.
Long before COVID-19, BPS had been under fire for how it enrolls students in the three exam schools, where the demographics of the student body include more white and Asian students and fewer Black and Latinx students compared to the demographics of the city’s school-age population. According to a 2018 report from the Harvard Kennedy School, “Nearly a quarter of 7th-12th-graders in the Boston Public Schools (BPS) attend one of three exam schools, considered among the highest quality schools in the district. The exam schools’ student bodies do not, however, reflect the city’s diversity. Black and Hispanic students comprise nearly 75% of Boston’s student age population but represent only 40% of enrollment at the three schools and only 20% of enrollment at the most selective Boston Latin School (BLS).”
In place of the test, the latest round of available seats were allocated to the top GPA earners in each of the city’s zip codes.
The disgruntled parents originally filed their suit in Suffolk Superior Court, but the case was bumped up to the local federal court, where the judge ruled in favor of the city. The group then appealed that ruling to the First Circuit, where both sides continue to file briefs while awaiting a hearing.
The group of parents had previously requested the aforementioned text messages, but the city provided transcripts that were scrubbed. The parents, as well as local media outlets, had received text message transcripts from the October meeting in question through public records requests, but it was not until this last month that additional—and subsequently controversial—texts were leaked.
BPS failed to note why redactions had been made. Specifically, the transcripts skipped a portion of texts between two school committee members that included the comment “I hate WR,” in reference to West Roxbury, as well as comments about “westie whites.” Those members have since resigned.
It is rare that a judge will reconsider their previous rulings, but regardless of the parent group’s legal chances, that makes three resignations of voting school board members in less than a year. Which is only one of many problems facing BPS and Mayor Kim Janey on this front, to say the least.
Next fall, Boston Public Schools, much like the rest of the state’s school systems, will attempt some sort of return to normalcy with help from federal emergency stimulus funds.
But unlike the other districts in the state, Boston may not get access to its emergency funds, according to state education commissioner Jeffrey Riley.
During a June 22 meeting, Riley said that he was considering withholding most of $430 million in emergency funds, citing concern for the stability of the Boston School Committee given that three voting members, as well as the sole student member resigned for various reasons in less than a year. The comments came during a three-hour long meeting that included a series of public comments from parents asking that masks not be mandated for students next year. At one point, the meeting had to be paused while a group of protesters demanded an end to the state’s mask mandate in schools.
Amid an outcry from Boston city officials, US Rep. Ayanna Pressley, Sen. Ed Markie, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren put out a joint statement calling on Riley to release the emergency funds.
“It was the intent of Congress when it authorized ESSER (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund) that these federal dollars would be released as efficiently as possible to support our schools districts’ efforts to reopen, rebuild, and support the mental health and social-emotional wellbeing of our students,” said a joint statement from the three lawmakers.
Aside from pushing state officials to follow through on funds that were promised to its municipalities, Warren is also reportedly attempting to stall President Joe Biden’s backpedaling on student debt reform.
Biden’s former presidential rival is blocking the appointment of James Kvaal as head of higher education within the Department of Education, in order to force further negotiations on student loan policy. Warren is seeking changes to how the government operates its federal student loan program, including replacing two loan-servicing companies that allegedly rely on predatory loan collection practices.
Aside from negotiation tactics, Warren also directly called on the Biden administration, along with an assortment of her legislative peers, to continue the current COVID-19 freeze on student loan payments into 2022 in lieu of him actually forgiving student debt—as Biden promised to do on the campaign trail.
“President Biden should cancel student debt, but in the meantime he should extend the payment pause so that borrowers aren’t hurt,” said Warren in a statement.