City councilors and school officials were discussing the budget for social and emotional support in Boston Public Schools when their words became drowned out by a steady chant.
“BPS! BPS! BPS!,” about 100 students yelled from the hallway outside the council chamber. “BPS! BPS! BPS!”
A dozen students who were sitting inside the chamber waiting to testify ran outside to join their peers.
“The whole world is watching!,” the students chanted. “The whole world is watching!”
They were some of the 1,039 students who walked out of class Tuesday afternoon in a planned protest against budget cuts, possible school closings, and school segregation.
It was the second walk out to take place in the past few months. The first drew more than 2,000 students, many of whom gathered on the Boston Common and in front of Faneuil Hall to express their concerns about the prepared school budget. After the walk out, Mayor Marty Walsh said funding would be restored to high school budgets.
But schools still face cuts. In March, after listening to more than two hours of tearful testimony, the Boston School Committee approved a contentious $1.027 billion budget that includes reductions to the spending formula for special needs students. The budget still needs to be approved by a City Council vote in June, which is why the students chose to plan another walk out.
“The first walk out was about awareness,” said Jahi Spaloss, a senior at Boston Green Academy who helped organize the demonstrations. “Now, with this one, we’re encouraging students to go out and make their voices heard.”
Still, Spaloss said students shouldn’t have to leave school to advocate for themselves. During his testimony at the City Council hearing on Boston Public Schools academics, social and emotional learning, and wellness, Spaloss said the budget cuts are an educational injustice.
“I would like you to look behind me at the faces of the students who came here to testify,” he said. “None of us should even have to have the discussion about budget cuts. You have to really ask, ‘Do they really respect BPS students? Do you even acknowledge that we may be the next doctors, lawyers, presidents of the United States?’ I don’t see that at all, but what I do see is young and powerful students who came out strong.”
Parents also joined in on the testimony, including Karen Oil, who said her family is moving away from Boston because her daughter will no longer receive the support she needs after the budget cuts.
“It has become increasingly difficult to get her needs met, and that’s even before the budget cuts,” Oil said. “I think that’s because we have a mayor who is more interested in ensuring that the needs of private interests prevail.”
During the hearing, City Councilor Tito Jackson thanked students and parents for taking the time to make their voices heard, and also noted the significance of the date.
“May 17, 2016 marks the 62nd anniversary of Brown v Board, which said that ‘separate but equal is inherently unequal,’” he said. “We still have a lot of work to do to giving access and opportunity to the young people.”
Although many students did wait hours to testify, the turnout for the walkout was noticeably smaller this time. When Simon Mariano ran out of Snowden International High School as part of the first student walk out in March, only a few of his classmates stayed behind.
This time, he said he was one of only a few students to leave class.
“I was one of maybe 10 people,” Mariano said. “People got scared. Kids were worried about getting suspended.”
Students who participated in the walk out were marked absent for any missed classes but not suspended, and their families received an automated phone message to let them know of the absences, the district said in a statement Monday.
Officials also said the date of the walk out was particularly concerning because it was the first scheduled day for grade 10 MCAS testing in math, which is a graduation requirement, and instead encouraged students and their families to attend a public forum June 7.
“It feels like they don’t believe in students,” Harry Saunders, a Boston Public Schools senior, said. “The place that we got our opportunity from is sending phone calls and emails telling us not to fight for it.”
Still, that didn’t deter students like Aliyah Jackson, a senior at Boston Community Leadership Academy, who spoke directly to the ways in which budget cuts harm students of color.
“As a young woman and person of color, I was always told that education is the key to high-paying jobs and success,” she said. “I can’t speak on behalf of everyone here, but I have siblings in the BPS system and I want to make sure they get the education they need to be successful in life. My ask is to say no to the budget.”
Toward the end of the hearing, six elementary school students from the Curtis Guild Elementary School in East Boston huddled around the microphone, where, like the older students before them, they recited a plea in unison.
“Please support us,” they said. “We are the future of this country.”