Dozens of housing activists, teachers, and parents joined forces on the steps of the Boston Public Schools’ central office in Roxbury Wednesday to advocate for stronger eviction protections and to oppose reopening schools for in-person instruction this fall.
The rally, led by City Life/Vida Urbana, a housing justice organization, started with a caravan from Jamaica Plain to the Bruce C. Bolling Municipal Building, where the BPS superintendent and School Committee are headquartered. Judy Burnette, an organizer for City Life/Vida Urbana, said BPS parents face “a triple whammy” due to the coronavirus pandemic, and their voices have not been heard in the ongoing debate around reopening schools.
“They have to worry about the schools opening because of their children and their health. They have to worry about whether or not they’ve got a job . . . and then, finally, they have to worry about their [own] health,” she said. “We don’t want the kids to come home with COVID-19; we want them to come home with an education.”
Under the school district’s latest reopening plan, parents will have the choice to send their children to school, following a hybrid model that combines in-person instruction two days a week with remote learning on days when they’re not in class, or keep them at home, where they’ll do all their coursework online.
Children with disabilities and students learning English who require hands-on support will have the option of going to school in-person three to four times a week.
The Boston Teachers Union has been urging officials to keep school buildings closed.
“When we’re considering reopening and when we’re also considering the social needs of people during the pandemic, we have to keep health and safety at the forefront,” said Becca MacLean, a teacher and union member, at Wednesday’s rally. “If we reopen schools, it needs to be done safely.”
MacLean called the district’s reopening plan “insufficient.” She’s wary of promises to upgrade the buildings’ ventilation systems, noting that even before the pandemic, some schools lacked clean drinking water and hand soap. She also fears the hybrid models would increase students and teachers’ exposure to COVID-19.
“We still don’t have guidelines on what safety precautions will be taken in the buildings,” she added. “We know that [personal protective equipment] is going to be funded by the teachers, and that’s an unsafe position to be in.”
Housing activists also called on lawmakers to adopt the COVID-19 Housing Stability Act, which would ban evictions and foreclosures for 12 months following the end of the state of emergency and freeze rents at pre-pandemic levels. Earlier this summer, Governor Charlie Baker extended the state’s eviction and foreclosure moratorium until Oct. 17.
“We have to continue keeping our families in the homes,” said Cheryl Antoine, a member of the community group Reclaim Roxbury. “If you get evicted, where’s the family going to go? Where are the students going to go? That puts a burden on families.”
The Roxbury protest preceded a second rally, organized by the Massachusetts Teachers Association, outside the State House Wednesday afternoon, where members urged the governor to require schools to operate remotely this fall.
Addressing the crowd in front of the Bolling Building, parent Amanda Govan, also of Reclaim Roxbury, urged protesters to form a “united front to protect the children.”
“I feel like I shouldn’t have to sacrifice my child for a semi-decent public education. I was her teacher for like the past four, close to four-and-a-half months, due to the remote learning online,” Govan said, as her 8-year-old daughter, an incoming second-grader at Orchard Gardens School, swatted at a bumble bee beside her.
Many school buildings, she noted, are aging and unrenovated and should have been upgraded years ago.
“This is not a fair shake,” she added. “It’s never been a fair shake.”