Local civil rights groups called Saturday for Boston Public Schools to listen closely to city parents’ concerns about shifting school start times, even as the organizations lauded the School Department for announcing the day before that schedules would not change for the next academic year.
Tanisha M. Sullivan, president of the Boston chapter of the NAACP, said in a phone interview that BPS’s effort to dramatically revamp schedules across the city “calls for a robust community engagement strategy developed by the district, and for the School Committee to hold the district accountable for really following through on that community engagement.”
The NAACP chapter released a statement on the issue jointly with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice Saturday morning.
The School Department released a statement in response to the civil rights groups, saying it “looks forward to continuing to work with our students, parents, employees, and partners to implement the bell times policy in a way that achieves our goal of improving the academic outcomes for students of all ages, increasing equity, and minimizing disruption to families, particularly to those from traditionally marginalized populations.”
BPS said it will focus on engaging the community “to solve the complex issues that are a barrier to building a more coherent and equitable school system.”
Schools Superintendent Tommy Chang announced Friday, just ahead of a planned parent protest against the schedule shifts, that the department would halt the changes, which were approved by a unanimous vote of the School Committee earlier this month.
The plans had called for more high schools to start after 8 a.m. and more elementary schools to end their days before 4 p.m.
Sullivan said new schedules were planned “really in a paternalistic way, without robust engagement” of parents and other stakeholders.
Sullivan said the district did not appear to have considered how dramatically those changes would affect many families, especially working families and those at or below the poverty line, for whom altered hours would demand additional child care that could be financially out of reach.
“We do have to factor in the reality of life for our children and families,” she said. “You cannot simply look at how many schools within a specific area are starting at a particular time.”
Her comments echoed those of many Boston parents, who for years have said the School Department makes decisions about controversial changes internally before bringing them to the public, so there is no opportunity for parents’ voices to be heard during the decision-making process.
Sullivan said the district needs to be open to listening to families’ concerns — but also to their ideas and “quite frankly, potential solutions” to challenging logistical changes.
“It’s not about presenting a baked cake and saying, ‘Here, don’t you like that?’ ” she said.