State education board member Michael Moriarty apologized Friday for comments he made about Lawrence and Holyoke schools this week after Lawrence Mayor Kendrys Vasquez called for his resignation.
Moriarty’s comments came during a Tuesday meeting of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, where members were asked to delay the state’s annual performance reviews of school districts due to the cancellation of MCAS exams in 2020. The measure passed unanimously and is now subject to public comment before a final vote in June. The former system will resume following the 2021-22 school year.
Every fall, the state issues designations for each school and each district based on MCAS standardized test scores, attendance, chronic absenteeism, and graduation rates. Under the new regulation, the state will keep schools’ and districts’ designations the same as they were before the pandemic and will not add any districts to the lists of underperforming or chronically underperforming ones. Schools given a chronically underperforming designation can face state intervention or a takeover, also called a receivership.
The federal government requires states to assign accountability ratings to receive federal funds, but Massachusetts got a waiver April 6 for this year.
In the meeting, prior to the vote, Moriarty, who previously served 13 years on the Holyoke School Committee, commented that while this year “there’s no getting away” from freezing the designations, the state’s accountability system is vitally important in districts like Lawrence and Holyoke that have been labeled chronically underperforming.
“That’s a period of time now that we’ve been unable to take the kinds of actions that are necessary because of the deep inequities that exist from one district to [the] next, and we know they can’t change themselves, ‘cause they never do,” Moriarty said.
“So if there’s any place where there needs to be a very serious conversation and a very serious intentionality about moving forward, it’s going to be in a revived accountability system that follows the end of this pandemic,” he added.
None of the other board members reacted to Moriarty’s comment during the meeting.
In his apology on Friday, Moriarty, who was appointed to the board in 2015 by Governor Charlie Baker, said he “made a comment regarding the value of MCAS and the school accountability system, which I regret was insulting, and for that I sincerely apologize.”
When he spoke about districts that seem unable to change themselves, Moriarty said he “was referring to school districts, not people in those communities.”
“I never meant to disparage people who live in Holyoke and Lawrence,” he said. “I apologize for giving that impression. I will strive to communicate much better going forward.”
Moriarty is serving in his second five-year term; board members are limited to two terms.
In a press release Thursday, Vasquez said Moriarty’s words “acted as a dog whistle and what you really want to say is that ‘immigrants are lazy people who do not care about education.’ ”
Both Lawrence and Holyoke public schools have a predominantly Latino student body, according to state enrollment data.
“To insinuate that Lawrence Public Schools cannot change because of our past or our current status is offensive,” Vasquez said in the statement, sent on Twitter using the hashtags #ResignMichaelMoriarty and #RenunciaMichaelMoriarty. “This is wholeheartedly wrong and your words and lack of action to improve the schools have shown me that you do not care about communities like Lawrence and to speak so poorly of your own community lets me know the type of person you are.”
Vasquez’s office did not return a request for comment about Moriarty’s apology.
In Holyoke, Acting Mayor Terry Murphy — appointed just over a week ago — said he has not spoken with Vasquez, but he does not want Moriarty to resign, calling him a “very strong advocate for improving education in Holyoke.”
“I’m sure his apology is heartfelt,” he said, “and I’m ultimately confident his goal in serving there [on the board] is to make sure that as many kids in the Commonwealth get the best education they can.”