Boston schools need to be good & safe

One has to hand it to Mayor Michelle Wu – her agenda is always on point.

Any progressive worth his or her salt is a proponent of some iteration of the Green New Deal, and Wu announced hers on Thursday. On tap, a $2 billion plan to overhaul Boston Public School facilities, including new construction and renovation projects, as well as district-wide upgrades

According to the mayor’s web site, this Green New Deal will “accelerate work to decarbonize the City’s building sector, while delivering urgent improvements to environmental health, justice and safety for BPS students, families and educators.”

Because fossil fuels are fightin’ words in progressive parlance, that means solar panels will be doing the work at BPS sites. There are nuts and bolts overhauls in the plan, energy and water efficiency upgrades, renovations to bathrooms and kitchens, school yard improvements, and the installation of air conditioners and drinking water fountains.

“Every child deserves a modern, up-to-date and well-equipped learning environment that stimulates their creativity and fuels their excitement about learning,” said Dr. Brenda Cassellius, Superintendent of Boston Public Schools.

True – no child should have to go to school in a crumbling building that’s boiling without AC in warmer months. And it shouldn’t take a pandemic to spur upgrades to ventilation systems. So renovating and improving Boston Public Schools is a welcome, overdue move.

But Mayor Wu’s Green New Deal spin on school building improvements raises the question: is this really about the students, or checking off another progressive box?

“The condition of our BPS facilities has long been a civil rights issue, and this historic investment is generations overdue,” said City Councilor Kendra Lara. “With the looming climate crisis, Boston should be setting the standard for green infrastructure, and a Green New Deal for BPS sets a clear, bold vision that guides us in the right direction.”

Boston should be setting the standard for safe schools, in which students can engage in learning without fear that they will be jumped, beaten, or that one of their fellow students has brought a gun to school, and will use it. The same goes for ensuring the safety of teachers and other school staff.

There have been enough escalating incidents of late to indicate that this is a here-and-now problem. And the solution isn’t green – it’s blue.

Mayor Wu has stood firm on her opposition to police in Boston Public Schools, and law enforcement officers are no longer on site. Stemming the tide of school violence is at least as important as climate change, especially for students, teachers and their families.

And while the city exam school “zip code” acceptance policy has boosted the diversity of students invited to attend Boston Latin School, Boston Latin Academy and the John D. O’Bryant School of Math and Science, it hardly lifts all boats.

“We have to do a better job of educating our kids in elementary school so they can pass the exam school test,” said at-large Councilor Erin Murphy.

Helping some students make the cut by dint of where and how they live is a boon for them – but not for the many, many left behind.

Boosting safety and improving education may not be as exciting as state-of-the-art, environmentally friendly, climate-change-thwarting school buildings, but it’s where the city needs to focus its attention, and dollars, if  it truly envisions a successful future for Boston children.


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