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Parents rally outside State House to denounce lack of input in school reopening plan

Shirley Porcena, a Roxbury mother of four, was joined by her daughter Melody Cubias, 5, as she addressed parents of color gathered at the Massachusetts State House to protest their exclusion from the discussion on school reopenings. Also seen is Julian Gayle, 5, of Boston.
Shirley Porcena, a Roxbury mother of four, was joined by her daughter Melody Cubias, 5, as she addressed parents of color gathered at the Massachusetts State House to protest their exclusion from the discussion on school reopenings. Also seen is Julian Gayle, 5, of Boston.Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe

About 30 educators, union representatives, and families from communities of color rallied outside the State House on Saturday to protest the state’s full return to in-person learning at many schools this spring — a decision they say was made without their input.

Under the directive, students in pre-kindergarten through Grade 5 will return to in-person learning full time April 5 through the end of the school year. Parents can still choose to continue their child’s remote learning, but won’t have the option to do so in the fall.

Boston, Worcester, and more than 60 other districts have been granted waivers to push back their in-person start dates by several weeks.

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Even with the delayed start for some areas, a statewide coalition of parents from diverse backgrounds said a full return is too extreme at this point in a pandemic that has hit their communities especially hard.

“Our voices were not included [in this decision],” said East Boston resident Abdi Ali, one of the coalition’s organizers. “We know too well what is dangerous and what is not, and if we’re really talking about equity, then you need to give us a seat at the table so we can tell you what will work for our communities.”

Latoya Gayle, a Dorchester resident with three children in Boston public schools, said the state spoke to suburban communities that are mostly white when making the decision to return in person, and education officials largely ignored areas where families of color are centered.

“Parents of color also just had no idea that this was happening,” she said. “They had no idea about what their choices are and how [these decisions] were made.”

The coalition is demanding that the state allow districts to individually decide whether to send students in person full time or to stay remote, and to extend the option for at-home learning through the 2021-2022 school year.

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They are also calling on lawmakers to cancel the MCAS, invest in high-efficiency ventilation systems in all school facilities, and allow children 12 or older and other stakeholders in the education system to get vaccinated.

“Safety is our number one priority because sick kids can’t learn and dead parents can’t help children learn,” Gayle said.

Shirley Porcena, a mother from Roxbury with four children under 9 and three in the school system, said coronavirus struck her entire family. Porcena was hospitalized with COVID-19 pneumonia for a week in October, she said, while her children continued to learn remotely at home, where they didn’t risk infecting other students.

“For most parents, since the day our kids are born, we make decisions for their health and safety,” she said. “Right now, that decision is being taken away from me, without anyone asking what’s best for my family.”

Students of color have seen larger opportunity gaps in education during the pandemic than their white classmates, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They also come from groups that are disproportionately infected and killed by the virus.

Khymani James, a senior at Boston Latin Academy and former student representative on the Boston School Committee who attended the rally, said members of the groups that make these decisions do not reflect the diversity of the communities they serve.

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“You see all of these BIPOC parents here, this is exactly what the round table should look like at the state level,” said James, who is heading to Columbia University next fall. “If the decisions that are being made in our education are not reflective of what our community members feel should be done, then we need to start over.”


Nick Stoico can be reached at nick.stoico@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @NickStoico.