The Long Walk

Posted on Wednesday, October 5 2005 by Heather Brandon

A parent protest of the Springfield school boundary plan is taking place this morning outside City Hall.

In this morning’s Springfield Republican, Natalia E. Arbulú describes how the John J. Duggan school is experiencing a 25% increase in the student tardiness rate, possibly because there are middle-school students who now have to walk two miles or more to get to school in the morning.

Arbulú cites Springfield’s school superintendent’s special assistant for transportation, John F. Maloney, as explaining that “parents have grown accustomed to having their students bused to school during the last three decades.” He said that middle-school students “walking the 2-mile limit to school should be able to do so in 40 minutes at a leisurely rate.” And the clincher, “Anybody who is out there for two or three hours is certainly not heading towards school when they leave home.”

This notion that parents and students are somehow frozen in time over a period of three decades baffles me. The argument here seems to be that the parents have always been the same people, and students never grow up and move on. Instead, families remain in the school system interminably. Those who were students in the ’70s are students today—at the same school, with the same expectations they always had.

I don’t think that’s the point. This kind of outlook would appear to regard the city’s families as a nameless, faceless mass who use up resources like leeches, rather than a living, breathing citizenry with intelligence and reasonable needs.

Answering people’s complaints about the long walk to school with a kind of blame-the-victim statement about how the students must be delinquents for taking so long doesn’t address the core issue the parents are trying to address. It could be called a diversionary tactic. Who cares how long the kids are taking? The issue is that two miles plus is a darned long walk to school, and can’t we do better than that?

A two mile walk is equivalent to starting at Longhill and Sumner Ave in Forest Park, and walking the entire length of Sumner Ave through the X, past White Street, and all the way to Allen, just about.

Would any clear-headed adult prefer to walk that distance to work every morning and afternoon, through all kinds of weather? Perish the thought.

I realize we have a fiscal crisis and we need to buckle down. But parents should at least have a seat at the table rather than being brushed off like flies and then insulted with comments about how their kids are to blame for being tardy. The boundary plan has a lot of flaws to begin with. It was designed by one consultant as a numbers-crunching game, and it was never approved by the state Board of Education—an unprecedented loopholed pass-through since attempts at desegregation in the ’70s, according to my reading of the situation. The school committee in Springfield assured the state that the new boundary plan would somehow magically maintain racial balance with no show of evidence, just an assumption that our neighborhoods are now mixed enough. (Not so, in my opinion, to justify the boundary plan.) Parents’ input hasn’t been garnered. Everyone’s too busy trying to save a buck.

Originally published at MassLive.com

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