To Milly Arbaje-Thomas, the civil unrest that followed the death of George Floyd sends a clear message to the region’s school administrators.
“We’ve become complacent,” she said. “We can’t just say that we do full integration. We need to do full integration."
Arbaje-Thomas is CEO of Metco, the voluntary school desegregation program. She spoke Friday at a 20-minute press conference in Hyde Park to announce the agency’s re-commitment to desegregating Boston’s suburban schools. At one point in the ceremony, she and others knelt with one knee to the concrete sidewalk, a gesture that’s become a symbol of the protests that raged across the country in response to Floyd’s death.
Metco places urban students from Boston and Springfield into suburban school districts and coordinates programs supporting them. Floyd’s killing underscores their needs and the importance of Metco’s mission, Arbaje-Thomas said.
Joined by dozens of school district superintendents, she called on education leaders to reexamine efforts to increase staff diversity, reduce disparities in student discipline, and generally give student participants in the program needed support.
Arbaje-Thomas said the program’s success rests largely with individual school districts. The agency will continue to work with state officials and local school districts to increase accountability, she said.
Barbara Hamilton, president of the Metco Directors’ Association, said Floyd’s death and the resulting protests have pulled back the veil on what remains a significant racial divide. The Metco program can help bridge that divide, but disparities in areas such as student discipline remain, she said.
“The Metco program provides a very direct avenue to at least begin to address some of those issues through education,” she said.
Kenlyne Exume agreed. A Roxbury resident, her son attends elementary school in the Concord-Carlisle Regional School District via Metco.
“My son is a brown boy, and I worry for him,” she said. "In a way, he’s a sort of ambassador, and I hope that by him being there he can teach people that black lives have always mattered
At least that’s the hope," she said.