Category: Archive

Bye-bye busing

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Jim Smith

BOSTON — Fed up with the city’s educational policy of assigning students on the basis of race and busing them to public schools all over the city, an advocacy group of predominantly Irish-American parents and grandparents has taken the bull by the horns and is ushering out Boston’s infamous era of forced school busing.

Led by Ann Walsh of Dorchester, Boston’s Children First filed a federal lawsuit in June claiming that the current school-assignment policy is unconstitutional because it discriminates against whites.

Rather than enter into a costly legal battle with the plaintiffs, and aware of conservative trends sweeping the country, the Boston School Committee voted in mid-July to scrap race-based assignments beginning in September 2000, thus ending a tumultuous period in the city’s history that began 25 years ago when Judge W. Arthur Garrity ordered forced busing as a means of desegregating the schools.

"Our purpose in wanting neighborhood schools is not to go back to something, but to improve the quality of the schools for all the children in Boston," said Walsh in an interview with the Echo at her home last week.

According to Walsh and other members of her group, schools will improve once they become more accessible to the parents. "Access creates accountability, and the presence of the community in the schools will make them better," she said. "The current policy has destroyed both the neighborhoods and the schools. It’s driven a third of white students out of the system."

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Walsh, a mathematician and computer scientist, has made presentations to civic and political leaders throughout the city, most of whom, she said, privately agree with everything she says.

"The court action we took was a last resort," she said. "We tried every other avenue possible to achieve our goal of improving the schools in this city."

John O’Toole, who is president of his Dorchester neighborhood association, said that many of his friends have moved out of Dorchester because of the declining quality of the public schools. "The parents have no access to the local schools, and no opportunity to get involved to improve them," he said. ‘That’s what this is all about — we want access to the schools in our neighborhood in order to make them better."

Walsh, who says that statistics clearly show that the city’s schools are the worst in the state, believes that input from neighboring families into the schools will create significant benefits. "Once you have moms and dads in and out helping the teacher, getting involved with coaching, tutoring, volunteering — then you have a school that you can start to feel good about," she said. "As it is, the schools in this city are absolutely terrible."

Walsh believes that a return to neighborhood schools, coupled with the expulsion of disruptive students and an end to social promotions, will improve 70 to 80 percent of the schools but not all of them.

"Special reading programs and special support programs could then be introduced into the schools that don’t show much improvement from the reforms," she said.

Walsh, whose parents are from Counties Galway and Leitrim, said that a common myth surrounding the forced busing controversy is that black parents are content with the status quo.

"Parents in Roxbury have the same questions that we’re all asking," she said. "They’ve been led to believe that a good school is something you find, not something you build. Now they want to know why they can’t improve schools that are right down the street."

The court case is scheduled for a hearing later his month. Despite the recent assurances from the Boston School Committee that race-based school assignments will soon be a thing of the past, Walsh wants the court to oversee the elimination of the current policies.

"We’re determined to see this Court case through to a successful conclusion because the system in place now is insane, inefficient and extraordinarily expensive," Walsh said. "And everybody is harmed by it, especially the children."

Boston’s Children First is represented by Chester Darling, who successfully argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1985 that the South Boston Allied War Veterans Council had a constitutional right to exclude the gay group GLIB from the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade.

Persons wishing to contact Boston’s Children First can call (617 282-2849.

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