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A Dissenting Voice Against School Closures Loses Spot On Boston School Committee

Dean Regina Robinson at a 2016 meeting of the Boston School Committee. (Courtesy Boston City TV)
Dean Regina Robinson at a 2016 meeting of the Boston School Committee. (Courtesy Boston City TV)

Regina Robinson of Hyde Park says she's disappointed to be leaving the Boston School Committee after a single four-year term.

Last month, Robinson was the only committee member not to vote to close the West Roxbury Education Complex, which houses two high schools and which the district has said is in unsafe physical condition.

At that meeting, Robinson said that she felt the district was defining "safety" too narrowly, and that it hadn't adequately prepared a plan for students to thrive after the closure.

"We can't [overstate] the emotional toll when a school closes on a shortened timeframe," Robinson said. "Therefore, I cannot support this vote as it is written," she added, to applause from community members.

Less than two weeks after that vote, Mayor Marty Walsh announced that he was replacing Robinson with Quoc Tran, a state official and civil rights lawyer.

"I had hoped to serve a second term," Robinson wrote in a message to WBUR, adding that her statements at meetings "demonstrated where I stood on important issues." She thanked the community for their support.

The mayor's office has not commented on why Robinson was not reappointed, citing instead Tran's experience as an attorney.

When Walsh appointed Robinson — a dean at Cambridge College and a BPS parent — to the committee in 2014, he cited her "unique and broad perspective on education issues." Robinson has four children, including one with Down syndrome, and had already been active as an advocate for students with disabilities in the city.

During her term, Robinson won a reputation as a relative maverick on a committee appointed by the mayor and known for its unanimity. When the district asked the committee to close Mattapan's Mattahunt Elementary in 2016, Robinson was again the lone abstention.

And she joined Dr. Miren Uriarte as a two-woman dissenting bloc on some contentious votes.

Together they opposed the district's proposed budget for the 2017 fiscal year, which activists said underfunded schools. They also voted against the appointment of Tommy Chang as the district's superintendent in 2015, supporting instead a Latino candidate, citing the fact that Latinx students make up more than 40 percent of the district's enrollment.

Uriarte resigned her seat in early December, and it remains vacant.

The current committee's tendency to support the mayor by consensus has led some to propose a return to an elected school committee for the first time since the early 1990s, with the hopes that it might become more attentive to the city's families and educators.

Boston is the only municipality in the state with an appointed school committee, though other large American cities use a similar approach to establish mayoral oversight of public education.

But Robinson herself isn't ready to support a return to elections, saying it isn't "the right question."

"The community is really desirous of authentic engagement and wanting to hold leaders accountable for [their] decisions," she wrote, regardless of what form they use to do it. "I'm on board with that notion."

Because her removal was a surprise, Robinson was not given a chance to say a formal farewell, which she called unfortunate.

In a letter to all BPS students after her removal, Robinson expressed her gratitude for her tenure on the committee. She wrote: "I tried to speak up for truth... [and] for equity... knowing personally the challenges that many of you and your parents face on a daily basis."

Asked whether she had further plans to be involved in public education in Boston, Robinson says she's grateful for the opportunity — and for a respite from the school committee's marathon meetings: "I'm going to enjoy Wednesday nights with my family right now."

Max Larkin Twitter Reporter, Edify
Max Larkin is a multimedia reporter for Edify, WBUR's education vertical.

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