West Roxbury's usually festive Christmas-tree lighting at Washington and Grove streets turned a little more serious today as parents protested Boston Public Schools' plans for earlier start times at many elementary schools.
Before the mayor and Santa arrived, City Councilor Matt O'Malley (West Roxbury, Jamaica Plain) said he would join Councilor Michelle Wu (at large) in voting against the entire school budget this spring if the plans are not changed or if BPS doesn't put the plans on hold for a year to get them right.
Santa arrived in a firetruck and got out in a crowd of protesters:
When Mayor Walsh arrived, he followed his usual routine of shaking hands, posing for photos and high-fiving kids, but this time he also had to plead with parents to give the school department more time this week to listen to them at a series of meetings across the city - starting Monday at the Roche Community Center in West Roxbury.
Walsh said the meetings will help him and Superintendent Tommy Chang figure out what to do about starting times, changed partly to let high-school kids get to school later, partly to reduce the number of elementary kids getting out after 4 p.m. and partly to save money by increasing the number of routes buses in the system can do from three to four.
Walsh said among the options is the one favored by many of the parents he talked to: A year-long moratorium on any schedule changes, to let BPS better take into account the impact on many families - and any changes that might come from changing the overall grade configurations of Boston schools.
Walsh said he appreciated the passion of the parents, said the School Committee only approved the idea of new start times after numerous meetings at schools around the city, said many parents actually support the plans but are reluctant to go public, but acknowledged not all parents were at the meetings. When the School Committee approved the shakeup, it did not have specific schedules in hand - those were only created by a bank of MIT computers after the vote.
At least one parent Walsh spoke to said she also knows other parents reluctant to speak out, because English is not their first language, and that there are even more parents upset about earlier start and end times for elementary kids, which would seriously disrupt their days.
Parents told Walsh they never got the sense school officials much listened to them - especially if they have kids at different schools - and said the calls for parent participation were only in English.
Protesters did not chant and kids still got to sit on Santa's lap.
Sign referring to an NAACP statement: