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Parents, Teachers Protest Boston School Closure Plan

BOSTON — Hundreds of parents and teachers turned out Tuesday night to protest a Boston Public Schools plan to close or merge eight schools.

The district says the cuts are necessary because of an expected $50 million shortfall next year. There are also as many as 5,000 unfilled school seats because so many kids have transferred to charter schools.

WBUR’s Monica Brady-Myerov joined Morning Edition Wednesday to break down the meeting.

Bob Oakes: What was the mood like at the meeting?

Monica Brady-Myerov: It was loud and angry. Before the meeting started, a crowd was chanting, “Save our schools.” This chanting went on for about 20 minutes. Several hundred parents — some with their children — and teachers came with signs and T-shirts. When the meeting started, they charged the stage as school committee members started to take their seats. Boston school police had to get in front of the stage to keep them away.

This shows how hard it is for any district to close a school because every single one of the schools had a representative there Tuesday night, and they’re fighting this.

What has the school committee told these parents about why their schools need to close or merge?

Tuesday night was a hearing, so the committee members didn’t speak, but in previous communications they’ve told parents their top priority is giving students access to stronger programs. And the schools they want to close just aren’t good enough. So the district is citing MCAS scores or the high-school dropout rate to explain why each school should close, but I should note that none of the schools selected by the district are on the state’s “under-performing” list; they’re not in turnaround status. So there are many schools that are doing much worse in the district and they’ll stay open.

What did the teachers, parents and students tell the school committee?

They each had very personal stories, but the message was the same — these schools are being misrepresented by the district as under-performing as an excuse to be shut down. Kenny Jervis, a parent at Roger Clap Elementary School, says he was taken by surprise when he learned his child’s school would close:

Never before have us as parents, our administrators or those children been told they were an under-performing school. We find we had a bad year. Many people, many things, many teams have bad years. The answer is not closing.

Parents also said they learned about these closures through a notice sent home in their kids’ backpacks in early October, and the note said there’d be a meeting that night. They say it’s just all happening too quickly and it’s not fair.

So, what are they asking for now? And are the committee and officials listening?

The parents want the process to start over. The school committee is scheduled to vote on this plan next week and they say the schools would close by the end of this year. And Tuesday night they didn’t say anything about it, so they say they’re listening, but they’re voting in a week. So it’s unclear how much they heard is going to affect their vote.

Richard Stutman, president of the Boston Teachers Union, spoke for teachers:

To close these schools primarily because they are small, or because they want to reuse their buildings or give them to a charter school, is a disservice to all of us who care about good schools, and it will only drive more people away from our schools, especially those schools that work.

Superintendent Carol Johnson shows she is listening to some people because she changed one of the plans Tuesday night: She said the district would not close the Community Academy of Science and Health (CASH School) in the Hyde Park complex. They didn’t give a reason why, but the school officials believe it’s because they refuted the district’s numbers and showed that they do have high MCAS scores. So they’ve shown a willingness to change their minds, but the vote is next week.

So there’s no indication at this moment that they’re not going to ram this thing through?

That’s right.

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