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Brockton Public Schools’ shameful student neglect

Ronald Mitchell
Brockton Public Schools’ shameful student neglect
“Hey, do you think we are getting tested on this?”

Massachusetts as a state has had a great history of providing public and private education. In the recent past, it has prided itself on standing up for equal and affordable education for all. Some of the oldest and most prestigious institutions of higher learning in the western world are based in the state, attracting students from around the globe. For a state with such a foundation to allow what is happening to some schoolchildren in Brockton is beyond comprehension.

There are estimated to be hundreds of Brockton Public Schools students sitting in the high school cafeteria or classrooms with no teacher, or maybe just a teacher aide, or paraprofessional, as Peter Roby reported in last week’s Banner. Brockton’s enrollment is predominantly Black or Hispanic.

Hundreds of district layoffs have occurred because of large budget deficits in the school system. The turnover has caused hiring delays that have left some Brockton High School students without a teacher for as many as three of the six class periods a day. Some elementary school students are being taught by paraprofessionals who do not have a state license to teach. Some of those “paras,” as they are sometimes called, are supposed to be working with a teacher in classrooms to help special needs students, based on their individualized education plans mandated by state and federal law. The situation at the high school and elementary levels is beyond unfair to the students in the city.

We as Massachusetts residents deserve to have quality education for our children, no matter their zip code. There are many public school systems throughout the state that provide a stellar public education. We all know that during the COVID pandemic, there were many new challenges educators faced. But now, a year after the crisis has subsided, it’s totally unacceptable for any public school in our state to be so lacking in the ability to provide a reasonable quality education.

We just passed the 50th anniversary of the NAACP lawsuit that led to  federal court intervention in Boston Public Schools because of unconstitutional inequities in that city. Is federal intervention the only way to ensure equity in education?

In Brockton, with an $18 million budget deficit last spring and summer, 435 teachers and staff were lost through layoffs, retirements and resignations. The accountant who helped identify the deficit has requested whistle-blower protection and the city has replaced the previous superintendent.

But even before the start of this year, the district announced another $14 million shortfall. The educational bottom line is 169 teacher jobs remain open.

As the son of two retired public school teachers, I still cannot wrap my head around the fact that what’s going on in Brockton’s schools is being allowed to happen in our state. I realize that cities have problems and that each is responsible for its own budget.  But what went wrong in the Brockton budget should not be placed on the backs of their Black and brown schoolchildren.

It would be absurd for any other part of a city government to be expected to lose 25% to 30% of its staff and continue to function normally. The police or sanitation departments would never see their workforces so severely slashed, because the lack of public safety and sanitary conditions that it would result in an outcry so loud from community members that something would be done to fix the funding problem. Well then, why, I ask, is this being allowed to happen to the Black and brown schoolchildren of Brockton? In a state this rich with educational opportunities for some, there is no reason why this kind of educational disgrace should be allowed to continue to affect public school children in any city.

We can do better. We must do better for these children, no matter the financial standing of their city. Standing by and allowing this to continue makes all of us here complicit in the neglect. The Massachusetts Constitution of 1780 lays down “the duty of legislatures and magistrates, in all future periods of this commonwealth, to cherish … the public schools and grammar schools in the towns.” I ask, why have we let that duty fall by the wayside in this city where the majority of students Black or brown? This catastrophic failure must end. We as a state must require it, and we as a community must demand it.