Several thousand Boston public school students walked out of their classrooms and onto the city’s streets on Monday morning, protesting budget cuts at schools in Boston and across the country. The action was part of a coordinated national response to the tens of millions of dollars that are being cut in large numbers of cities.
Reaction in Boston to the reduced funding has become increasingly fierce in recent weeks as neighborhoods absorb the realities of what the estimated $38 million cut to the BPS budget will mean for specific schools. For their part, students say they fear the removal of crucial programs from the high schools.
According to BPS spokesperson Daniel O’Brien, 3,650 students walked out of class on Monday. There are 17,600 enrolled in the city’s high schools.
“The Boston Public Schools appreciates the passion students have for their education and their interest in making their voices heard,” said O’Brien. “While BPS encourages student activism and advocacy, we do not condone students leaving school without permission and missing valuable instruction time. The district is working collaboratively with student leadership organizations to provide students across the city opportunities to lead meaningful discussions on the BPS budget process and become more engaged.”
Students left their classes at about 11:30 a.m. and gathered on Boston Common before moving toward the State House, carrying signs and chanting as they moved along.
A Boston Latin School sophomore who gave her name as Jaylene from Dorchester, told the Reporter, “I was in History, and my teacher just said to stay safe and to make a difference.” Other students told similar stories about teachers supporting their protest; at the least, no one stopped them.
In anticipation of the protest, BPS sent a letter to parents last Friday, encouraging them to tell their students to stay in class. “While we encourage our students to become leaders in their community and advocate for their schools, BPS does not sanction students leaving school without permission during the day,” the letter said. “Students who choose to participate will be marked absent from any classes that they miss. If your child does leave school, we will notify you by phone.”
An hour after the scheduled walk-out time, students were showing up at the Parkman Bandstand on the Common and being greeted with wild applause from their fellow protestors.
When asked if she was concerned about the repercussions of walking out of class, Codman Square resident Elexxus Ryan, a sophomore at the John D. O’Bryant School of Math and Science, said, “Even if we get in trouble, this is what has to be done. This is our education. It’s worth it.”
After rallying around the bandstand for about an hour, the students moved the rally up to the front steps of the State House.
City Councillor Tito Jackson, who has been vocal in his support for the budget-cut protests, talked to students and reporters in the shadow of the the Robert Gould Shaw and Massachusetts 54th Regiment Memorial at the edge of the Common on Beacon Street.
“They’re doing the right thing,” the councillor said. “Some others won’t stand up for them, some others won’t have their back. But I stand with these young people. Either we stand up for these young people, or we walk away from our future, and that’s what all of them are saying to us.”
Shortly after 1 p.m., the students headed down to Faneuil Hall, where Mayor Martin Walsh and Governor Charlie Baker were hosting a press conference to announce the Forbes Under 30 summit set to take place in Boston in October, and rallied outside the Hall.
Following the press conference, Walsh, who had initially opposed the walk-out, told the Reporter that he was unaware the students were outside the building, adding, “If there’s thousands out there, when we walk out there, we’ll talk to them.” The mayor then said, “I felt there are other ways of doing this. We’re still in middle of the budget process, so I think that we have a long way to go before a final budget’s there. I would much prefer the students stay in school, but the fact that they are out advocating, I commend them for it.”
Both the governor and the mayor exited Faneuil Hall on the Quincy Market side, where fewer protestors had gathered, and got into their cars without speaking to anyone.
As the students began to disperse, many continued to Downtown Crossing. Over the course of the protest and rallies, a few fights broke out among students and police responded, de-escalating the situations. No arrests were made by Boston police, according to departrment spokeswoman Rachel Maguire. MBTA Transit Police made five arrests, according to T spokesman Joe Pesaturo.
Since the original budget proposal meeting on Feb. 10 there have been roughly a dozen sessions hosted by district city councillors for parents, teachers, students, and advocates. Councillors Jackson and Annissa Essaibi-George, who co-chair the Committee on Education, have scheduled ten town hall meetings throughout the city.
Two are scheduled for the coming week: Tonight (Thurs., March 10) at the Mattapan Public Library at 6 p.m.; and next Monday, March 14, at 6:30 p.m. at the Adams Street branch of the Boston Public Library.