By: Advocates for Education Board
Boston and Cambridge are home to to some of the top colleges and universities in the country. For those of us lucky enough to attend Harvard Law School (HLS), we see every day the power of a top-notch education. But within miles of our campus, students in the Boston Public School (BPS) system face immense challenges that too often preclude them from having the option of attending a school like HLS. For this year’s Education Law Week, we aimed to deepen our law school’s understanding of a few of the most pressing issues within the Boston Public Schools. Through this, our hope was to strengthen law students’ connection to, and investment in, the greater community that we are lucky enough to be a part of for at least three years.
Day One: Civil Rights Attorney Matt Cregor on Racial Disparities in BPS’s Exam Schools
In recent years, Boston’s exam schools (Boston Latin Academy, Boston Latin School, and O’Bryant School of Math and Science) have drawn increased scrutiny for the racial disparities in their admissions numbers. Most alarmingly, while Black and Latino students make up 75% of BPS students, only 20% of students at Boston Latin School identify as Black or Latino. In response to these alarming numbers, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law produced a report titled “A Broken Mirror,” which lays out the immense disparities in BPS exam school admissions, and calls for BPS to “immediately intensify its review of exam school admissions.” Matt Cregor, who led the production of the report and is currently an attorney with the Mental Health Legal Advisors Committee, led a conversation about the findings of the report and the solutions that have been proposed through community dialogues.
Day Two: Immigration Attorney Elizabeth Badger on the BPS to ICE Pipeline
Students who are immigrants face unique challenges, which BPS may exacerbate through its school incident reporting practices. Boston School Police officers sometimes report school incidents to the Boston Regional Intelligence Center (BRIC), a network of local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies that includes U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). While BRIC is designed to be a tool to identify “major players” in crime and pinpoint areas of crime, Boston School Police have input seemingly minor school offenses into the database. As illustration, Badger explained that a lunchroom disagreement among two students, resolved without resort to fighting, could make its way into BRIC. In one case, advocates say that an unsupported gang allegation against a BPS student was input into BRIC and was later used to support ICE deportation proceedings against the student. Badger discussed how local advocates are working to gain additional information about BPS policies and procedures for School Police Officers’ use of BRIC.
Day Three: National Women’s Law Center’s Manager of Campaign and Strategies Nia Evans on the Impact of School Dress Codes on Girls of Color
This spring, the National Women’s Law Center released “DRESS CODED: Black Girls, Bodies, and Bias in D.C. Schools,” a groundbreaking report on the impact that student dress codes have on Black girls and their educational experiences. This report, co-authored with 21 Black girls who attend D.C. schools, sheds light on the ways in which dress codes contribute to the disparities in discipline rates between white students and students of color, and sparked a critical national dialogue about the reforms that are needed in school and district policies. Nia Evans, who led the project for NWLC, presented the findings of the research, and discussed the process and effects that the report’s creation had on the students themselves. The conversation raised a number of questions about the use of dress codes in Boston Public Schools, and laid the groundwork for future research and advocacy efforts.
Day Four: Boston City Council President Andrea Campbell on the Role of Cities in Education
To conclude Education Law Week, Boston City Council President Andrea Campbell joined students for a conversation on the City’s role in the education of its students. She began by sharing her personal motivation for doing this work, providing us an urgent reminder that laws and policies are more than abstract concepts or interesting topics of conversation: they have real consequences for real people. A graduate of Boston Latin School, Councilor Campbell helped bring Education Law Week full circle by engaging in dialogue about inequities in educational opportunity. While the City Council is able to exert direct influence over education in some ways, Councilor Campbell also discussed the comprehensive progress that is needed in order for the City to truly serve all students within BPS. From housing to safety to access to health services, so much of what students bring into the classroom is dictated by the community that surrounds them. Councilor Campbell discussed the efforts Boston is currently undertaking to strengthen both support and outcomes for students across the City.
Thank you to all who attended the events and supported Education Law Week; a special thank you to all of our speakers!
The events for Education Law Week were co-sponsored by the Advocates for Education, Child and Youth Advocates, and Urbanists, and funded by the Dean of Students’ Grant Fund.