“The Defendants have imposed upon the school children of Boston a racial and ethnic classification system for entry into its most prestigious public schools.”
The Boston Parent Coalition for Academic Excellence is suing Boston Public Schools, claiming racism against white and Asian students in the temporary plan to allocate seats at the city’s exam schools next school year based on zip code.
The group was created last fall as an immediate response to the Boston School Committee’s decision to suspend the exam school tests due to COVID-19.
“The Defendants have imposed upon the school children of Boston a racial and ethnic classification system for entry into its most prestigious public schools,” said the 25-page lawsuit, which was filed on Feb. 26 in federal court.
The complaint was submitted on behalf of 14 anonymous families with children who intend to apply to the exam schools. Of those, 11 families live in West Roxbury. The families are roughly divided in race, representing eight Asian students and six white. The plaintiffs list Chinatown, West Roxbury, Charlestown, Brighton, Jamaica Plain, and Roslindale as the neighborhoods that will lose the most seats under the zip code plan, combining demographic data to compare white and Asian students together against Black and Latinx students.
Although the suit presents those six neighborhoods as being predominantly white and Asian, due to combined stats, the two groups are not equally represented. According to US Census data, those neighborhoods have a combined total of 120,884 white residents and 16,808 Asian residents, meaning that white students are far more likely to miss out on seats.
In a typical year, sixth and eighth-grade students are eligible to take a test to gain entrance in either Boston Latin School, Boston Latin Academy, or the O’Bryant School of Mathematics and Science. The school committee was already under the gun from the federal government to switch the exam due to racial bias against Black and Latinx students when they decided to suspend the test for a year due to COVID-19. The new test combines 2019 MCAS scores and GPA with 80% of the seats allocated between neighborhoods based on how many students live there.
The group is demanding a halt to the city’s zip code plan. Instead, they want every available seat allocated based solely on MCAS scores and GPA.
The zip code plan that sparked the lawsuit has only been approved for use for a single year, according to a BPS spokesperson who declined to comment further on the case.
Students across the state will have a greater opportunity to take part in a different kind of testing, after Gov. Charlie Baker announced that the state would continue funding pool COVID-19 testing for students through mid-April.
The testing method, which is already in use in 159 of the state’s 400 school districts as of March 4, involves combining test swabs from an entire classroom and testing it. The test does not necessarily specify which student or teacher is positive, but the end result is same, since the class comingles and all would have to self-quarantine.
The extension for the pool testing coverage is part of Baker’s goal to return children to the classroom full time at some point in April. In the same week, Baker also announced that teachers and childcare workers were now eligible to get the COVID vaccine and that he plans to postpone the annual MCAS tests from April to late May or June.
The Massachusetts Teachers Association applauded the two announcements, but argued that the governor should go further and waive the MCAS entirely for this school year.
“We believe the state should be pressing the federal government for a waiver from having to administer these tests—not simply postponing them. High-stakes standardized tests are problematic in the best of times, and they would be especially damaging right now,” MTA President Merrie Najimy said in a media statement.
The US Department of Education released new guidelines in the last week of February for how states should consider adjusting their annual assessment testing, such as the MCAS in Mass.
In consideration of the ongoing pandemic, the education department encouraged states to consider pushing back their testing date into the summer, and to also determine if online testing is viable and whether they should shorten the length of the actual test.
Former Education Secretary Betsy Devos allowed states to seek waivers in early 2020 to avoid having to administer education assessment tests for that school year. But last fall, she sent a letter to the heads of each state’s school department and told them that they would not likely be able to waive the testing requirement for the 2020-2021 school year.
The Biden-Harris administration’s new education secretary, Miguel Cardona, softly backpedaled on that Devos claim, encouraging states to find alternative ways to administer the test. At the same time, the states are still able to request a waiver to postpone for another year.
In a statement to the media, acting Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education Ian Rosenblum said, “The Department of Education is committed to supporting all states in assessing student learning during the pandemic to help target resources and support to the students with the greatest needs.”
Zack is a veteran reporter. He writes for DigBoston and VICE, and formerly reported for the Boston Courant and Bulletin Newspapers.