Boston Public Schools will close two high schools in West Roxbury in June. The school committee voted Wednesday to shutter West Roxbury Academy and Urban Science Academy, both located in the West Roxbury Education Complex.
“I want to acknowledge how difficult this recommendation is. This situation is not ideal,” Laura Perille, the interim superintendent, told the school committee before the vote. “It was accelerated by the poor physical condition of the West Roxbury Education Complex.”
Officials laid out plans to relocate high school seniors together and maintain the graduation requirements from West Roxbury Academy and Urban Science Academy, so as not to disrupt students’ path to graduation. They also plan to keep students in special education programs together, as well as students who are still learning English, who will be kept with students who speak the same first language.
The closure comes amid protest from parents, teachers and students from the two schools clamoring to stay together, concerned that the disruption could set back students academically. School officials say that the building, which required emergency masonry work before the start of the school year, needs costly repairs to be safe for long-term use. And, they argue, fewer students have been signing up to attend the schools. Future plans include tearing down the West Roxbury Education Complex and building a new high school on the same property as part of Mayor Marty Walsh’s $1 billion school modernization plan.
Combined enrollment at Urban Science Academy and West Roxbury Academy has gone from 1056 students to 683 in the last five years, according to the district. The majority of students at both schools are black or Latino. Students with disabilities make up 27 percent of students at Urban Science Academy and 22 percent at West Roxbury Academy, higher than the districtwide average. Students still learning English make up 13 percent of students at Urban Science Academy and 32 percent of students at West Roxbury Academy.
All school committee members, except Regina Robinson, voted for the plan. Robinson abstained, saying that concern for the safety of the school was “overstated,” while concern for the students’ “emotional safety” had been “understated.”
“Why is there still so much dissent from parents?” committee member Jeri Robinson asked school officials. She urged them to delay the vote so school officials could speak to more parents and teachers, but ultimately voted to close the schools.
Committee member Alex Oliver-Davila voted for the plan, saying she “couldn’t sleep” thinking about students "being unsafe" in a school building. She said she believed the district had done its due diligence to find a new space big enough for both schools.
Rising seniors from the Urban Science Academy and West Roxbury Academy will be relocated to the Irving Middle School and given their own entrance. Rising sophomores, and juniors in mainstream classes will have the option to apply or transfer to most of the high schools in the district, except the city’s three exam schools, Boston Latin School, Boston Latin Academy, and the John D. O’Bryant School of Mathematics and Science. Students take an entrance exam in the sixth grade to enter these schools in the seventh grade.
Oliver-Davila questioned the restriction, and asked school officials to find a way to enable students from the closing schools to attend exam schools. “All schools should share in this,” she said.
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