At 3 p.m. on Saturday outside the State House, East Boston resident Abdi Mohamed Warsame Dirie will joining fellow Eastie parents and a coalition of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) parents to denounce what they argue is the Massachusetts Department of Education’s exclusion of parent and family voices from full school opening policy-making.
The group of parents argue specifically that Commissioner Jeff Riley has overstepped his authority with, “a rashly-decided, poorly-planned mandate to fully open schools five days a week for in-person learning” without proper safety measures in place. They added that Riley has not seriously considered the health impact and disparities for students, teachers, or building staff or BIPOC and immigrant families hit hard by the pandemic.
Dirie said the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted Black and Brown communities in Eastie and other Boston neighborhoods and Riley’s decision was made without the voices of these communities.
“Our governor and education commissioner decided to fully open schools five days a week for in-person learning on April 5 without proper safety measures in place,” said Dirie, who has a 5th grader in school in Eastie. “The state hasn’t made an investment to improve HVAC systems in all school facilities and free/clear cleaning at every school to prevent the exacerbation of certain medical conditions, including asthma and eczema, affecting students, faculty, and staff. In addition, our teachers, bus drivers, custodians, and families haven’t been vaccinated and the governor made this decision without including the voices of BIPOC communities and working families who are disproportionately impacted by Covid-19. We don’t know why he is rushing to open schools and putting our lives at risk when the covid injection is now spiking again. To us, equity means giving us a seat at the table, prioritizing, and investing in our community because East Boston is not Wellesley and the same model won’t for us.”
The coalition said parents and families in Boston overwhelmingly prefer to keep their children home and safe via the two learning model options currently available to families–hybrid or remote.
At the March 23, Boston School Committee meeting Boston Public School Superintendent Brenda Cassellius said 80 percent of BPS families do not intend to switch to a new model during a recent family choice survey conducted by BPS.
With less than a third of the school year remaining Riley has made moves to mandate children back into school buildings. Riley himself conceded that the April 5, 2021 return to full in-person learning was too hasty in Boston and granted BPS a waiver to his own mandate–allowing BPS K-8 schools to open fully on April 26, 2021.
This BIPOC Coalition is calling to have a seat at the table every time a policy decision is made that impacts their children. The inequities of the school full opening process have reached a critical tipping point, posing a danger to many communities, families and many other stakeholders who have likewise been outright excluded or only peripherally consulted in with respect to full opening of schools, including our teachers, bus drivers, school custodians, nurses, and other direct service providers to students. The Boston Teachers Union, school bus drivers’ union USW Local 8751, and other community organizations have endorsed this BIPOC Parent Coalition.
These parents collectively demand the following from DESE:
• Schools are granted the autonomy to continue offering hybrid learning models this school year
• All stakeholders who are eligible and choose to get vaccinated are made priority, including children ages 12 plus
• MCAS must be canceled for this school year
• Investment is made in high-efficiency HVAC systems in all school facilities and free/clear cleaning at every school to prevent the exacerbation of certain medical conditions, including asthma and eczema, affecting students, faculty, and staff in those buildings • Allow families to remain fully remote for the school year 2021-22 if they choose.