Parents, civil rights leaders want school closures delayed
Nearly a dozen organizations led by parents, civil rights leaders, and educators called on Mayor Martin J. Walsh and school officials Wednesday to halt all school closures and major construction projects until they develop a comprehensive districtwide facilities plan.
Many of the organizations, including the NAACP, are disappointed the city’s much-anticipated proposal last month to overhaul school facilities included plans only for certain schools or neighborhoods, instead of providing a school-by-school rundown of construction needs and estimated costs.
“As a city of neighborhoods, Boston must make long-term decisions that address the city as a whole, and in a comprehensive way,” the groups wrote in a letter they planned to present to the School Committee. “In light of years of distrust in our schools, it is also especially important that meaningful stakeholder involvement be at the core of any plan.”
The School Committee is expected to vote on some aspects of the proposal, known as BuildBPS, next month. The proposal would build or extensively renovate a dozen schools and phase out middle schools, which would reshuffle students across the city as the middle grades are absorbed by elementary, K-8, and high schools.
The recommendations have stirred intense emotions among students, teachers, and parents, especially those who have been packing public meetings recently to protest the slated closure of three schools over the next two years: West Roxbury Academy, Urban Science Academy, and the McCormack Middle School.
School officials say that West Roxbury Academy and Urban Science Academy must close because the building they share in West Roxbury is in dire condition. The McCormack in Dorchester would be the first middle school to be phased out. School officials plan to renovate or replace the buildings, which other schools can then compete with one another to move into.
Interim Superintendent Laura Perille defended the BuildBPS proposal and noted a formal report will be issued that outlines the “full implications and benefits.”
“The Boston Public Schools will continue to execute an open and transparent community engagement process as we talk about BuildBPS,” she said. “In recent months BPS has convened a host of community meetings and listening sessions with students, staff, families, and community partners in order to collect their valued opinions and feedback on the current BuildBPS proposals, and we will continue to engage with the community as we plan for the future of BPS.”
The organizations faulted BuildBPS for lacking critical information, such as a 10-year timeline for facilities maintenance, relocation, construction, or closure of the city’s 125 schools along with the associated costs; an analysis to determine if the proposal is equitable across neighborhoods and according to the racial, socio-economic, and linguistic background of students, including those with disabilities; and an analysis to understand the proposal’s impact on current and future students, families, and neighborhoods.
The groups’ proposed moratorium on closures and construction would exclude projects that have already received the necessary approvals, such as Boston Arts Academy, and would last until a comprehensive plan was approved by the School Committee.
The letter was signed by Black Educators Alliance of Massachusetts, the NAACP Boston branch, Boston Education Justice Alliance, Boston Network for Black Student Achievement, Citizens for Public Schools, Harbor Point Task Force, Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health, Standing Up for Racial Justice Boston, Start Smart BPS, Quality Education for Every Student, and Union of Minority Neighborhoods.
Many students, parents, and teachers at the West Roxbury schools remain skeptical that their campus must close. Constructed in the 1970s, it is one of the newer high school buildings in Boston and just 18 months ago it was rated in “good” physical condition by city consultants, the second-highest rating. That review, part of a citywide evaluation of school buildings, observed no signs of deterioration to the roof, foundation, floors, facade, or walls, according to a copy of the report.
However, Perille said last month the city’s Inspectional Service Department nearly prevented the school from opening this fall due to safety issues, including a crumbling facade, prompting emergency repairs. Perille attributed many of the problems to damage from rain and high winds last spring.
The revelation stunned school supporters, who have urged officials to release the city inspection reports and any violations that were issued. The Globe also requested those records, but the only 2018 document the city and school department provided last month was a Certificate of Inspection dated Sept. 4cq — two days before school opened — that included pictures of problems with the facade and water leaks, but repeatedly noted in handwriting “passed.”
The inspectional services department said in a statement last month that a July 9 inspection found the “whole capstone assembly had failed and was in imminent danger of collapse.” Other problems included roof damage causing water leaks inside, which could compromise electrical systems.
Another inspection in October found more capstones needed repair, the antenna above the mechanical room had collapsed, window sills needed re-caulking and re-pointing, a coal generator was leaking oil, missing exit signs, and other problems, the statement said. It was unclear if any violations were actually issued.
William Christopher, inspectional service commissioner, said he supports closing the West Roxbury campus.
“There is no question that the long-term viability of this school building past this current school year would require significant improvements to its infrastructure, including a new roof, masonry repairs, window installations, and more,” he said in a statement last month.
McCormack supporters also have questioned the closing of their school, which also received a “good” rating 18 months ago. The review went much better than the adjacent Dever Elementary School, which received the second-lowest rating, “poor.” Yet the proposal doesn’t call for any major renovation to the Dever, which is under state receivership, and instead suggested adding a sixth grade there after the McCormack closes.