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City Council lambasts Wu’s proposal for the O’Bryant School

Jasiah Watkins (left), 17, Angel Bannister, 16, Sukhai Rawlins, and Charming Salaman held signs as they rallied outside of Boston City Hall ahead of a City Council hearing on the proposal by Mayor Michelle Wu and Boston Public Schools leaders to move the O’Bryant School of Mathematics and Science from Roxbury to West Roxbury.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Six months after Boston Mayor Michelle Wu unveiled her ambitious proposal to overhaul Boston’s high school system, city councilors, parents, and education activists are still unconvinced about the plan’s merits, particularly its controversial cornerstone — moving the O’Bryant School of Math and Science to West Roxbury.

City councilors lambasted the plan and questioned the mayor’s community engagement process at a hearing Tuesday evening on the viability of the proposal. The hearing, sponsored by city councilors Julia Mejia and Tania Fernandes Anderson, was preceded by a small protest outside City Hall led by the Boston Education Justice Alliance.

“We haven’t had a public forum at all, and they’re sympathetic to the point that a lot of voices had to be heard,” said O’Bryant parent Rahul Dhanda at the rally before Tuesday’s hearing, where he later testified. “At least we can have an open conversation that will inform the city, including those who have decided not to listen.”

The mayor’s proposal would move the O’Bryant, which shares a campus with Madison Park Technical Vocational School in Roxbury, to a completely rebuilt facility at the now-vacant West Roxbury Education Complex on the VFW Parkway. Wu and Superintendent Mary Skipper’s vision for the new O’Bryant includes state-of-the-art labs, access to plenty of green space, and extensive athletic facilities, including an indoor pool. Relocating the O’Bryant would also allow the school to grow from 1,600 to 2,000 students with more seats for seventh- and eighth-graders.

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Richard O’Bryant, son of the first Black School Committee member for whom the school is named, fiercely defended the plan in his testimony.

“Everybody who’s involved in politics knows it’s the politics of possibility, not the politics of perfect,” O’Bryant said. “All these dreams about a new facility somewhere else in the middle of the city of Boston is a pipe dream.”

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“West Roxbury,” he added, “is as much Boston as every place else. And we have a right to it just as much as everybody else does.”

But critics of the plan have pointed out the West Roxbury Education Complex — formerly West Roxbury High School — is largely inaccessible by public transportation, which will make commuting to school a major challenge for families living in the easternmost parts of the city.

“I see this as school gentrification. You’re displacing people and creating further hardship for folks to be able to participate actively in their children’s educational outcomes,” Mejia said at the start of Tuesday’s hearing.

Boston Public Schools has proposed an initial transportation plan to provide shuttle buses to the West Roxbury campus from transit hubs across Boston.

Delavern Stanislaus, the district’s chief of capital planning, testified Tuesday that the median travel time for students commuting to West Roxbury would be approximately 40 minutes, which is on par with the typical commuting time for Boston high schoolers. While she acknowledged students in East Boston and Charlestown would see longer commutes, students in some neighborhoods, she said, including Brighton and Hyde Park, would see their transportation time decrease.

Stanislaus said the city is also in talks with MassDOT and the MBTA about building a stop on the commuter rail line near the campus.

“It’s incredibly important that students from all neighborhoods continue to have full access to the O’Bryant and we will continue to refine the transportation plan to make that possible,” Stanislaus said.

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But O’Bryant social studies teacher Aparna Lakshmi testified that the city’s transportation plan “is full of holes” and will increase student tardiness, truancy, and absences.

“Perhaps the biggest problem with the city’s yellow bus plan is that yellow buses are expensive,” she went on. “The reality is that busing will once again get too expensive, and so the district will cut all these bus routes again, just like they did before.”

She suggested converting the West Roxbury Education Complex into a K-8 school, or veterans’ housing, while revitalizing the O’Bryant’s current campus in Roxbury, so both it and Madison Park can stay there.

Wu has designated $18 million in the city’s 2024 capital budget for design and demolition work at the West Roxbury complex, with a goal of beginning construction in 2025. The project falls under the city’s Green New Deal for BPS, an initiative to spend at least $2 billion building and renovating schools while investing in environmentally friendly buildings.

Of Boston’s three exam schools, the O’Bryant is its most diverse: In the 2022-23 school year, more than one-third of the students identified as Latino, 31 percent as Black, and 19 percent as Asian. Half spoke a native language other than English, and nearly 60 percent were low income.

Critics said Tuesday they feared moving the O’Bryant from its longtime home in the Black cultural center of Boston to a predominantly white neighborhood would dilute the school’s diversity and culture — two of its most valuable assets.

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“Moving the O’Bryant out of the Black community and into West Roxbury would change its character. Shuttle buses will not prevent that,” said civil rights icon Jean McGuire, the first Black woman elected to the Boston School Committee, in a prepared statement read aloud at Tuesday’s hearing by parent organizer Suleika Soto. “It’s also re-segregating the Boston schools again.”



Deanna Pan can be reached at deanna.pan@globe.com. Follow her @DDpan.