May 19, 2016
Calling for more funding and less standardized testing, about 200 Boston Public School students walked out of their classes on Tuesday afternoon to attend a rally at City Hall. The scene was in marked contrast to a rally on Boston Common in March when 3,000 students left school to join the protest against budget cuts.
On Tuesday, students filled the gallery in the council chamber to testify at a hearing focused on social and emotional learning and wellness in the public schools. Chants from the protest could be heard from inside the chamber as Councillors Mark Ciommo, Annissa Essaibi George, and Tito Jackson co-chaired the hearing.
Harry Saunders, a senior from Snowden International High School, identified himself as one of the organizers of the protest, which, he said, included a “walk-out”— with students leaving classes without permission. “I feel like the city doesn’t believe in its students,” said Saunders, who claimed that both walkouts were entirely student-run efforts.
Saunders cited an early draft of an outside report by McKinsey & Company that suggested the BPS could cut costs of up to $85 million a year by closing 40 percent of district schools as one of the prime motivations for the protest.
No city schools are slated to close next year. In fact, the BPS budget will see an overall increase of more than $13 million over last year; however, that is not enough to cover rising costs across the system.
At one point during the hearing, the crowd of students outside the council chamber appeared to be moving toward the mayor’s office. Although there were no confrontations, police officers stood in a line outside the lobby of the Mayor’s office. The protestors, who were chanting “the whole world is watching” and following up with the cry “BPS,” were asked to move to an overflow room.
When testimony began at the hearing, which lasted for close to three hours, student after student called for the council to vote against the proposed budget. And some addressed the social and emotional learning and wellness issue, sharing stories of challenges with anxiety and depression.
Essaibi-George, a former city school teacher, said she shares student concerns about the impacts of cuts, but disapproved of the walk-outs. In a Facebook post, she cautioned: “Let's fight these budget cuts together, but let's not take away from valuable learning time in the process.”