In late March, a group of about 50 Holyoke high school students concerned their district may go into receivership — meaning it could soon be run by the state instead of local officials — got up in the middles of class and walked out of school in protest.
For their well-organized and courageous act the students have been threatened by Holyoke school administrators and slammed by the press.
In times of crisis, opportunity, and change it is important for those most affected to have a say in the future. If that voice isn’t being heard; get heard.
The students organized under the name “Los Rebeldes” and issued a press release outlining their concerns and demands. Students say they worry state receivership would mean some teachers and school-level administrators would be fired and more emphasis would be put on standardized testing. They asked for more student involvement in how the school operates, less testing, and more “interesting classes like Latino studies and electives.”
After leaving class at 9 a.m., the students marched over to Mayor Alex Morse’s office and had a sit-down with him about the importance of keeping Holyoke schools under local control. The group then marched to the school administration building and demonstrated on the lawn.
In the media, The Republican (“Holyoke School Walkout Didn’t Solve Anything”) chastised students, claiming their act of civil disobedience “[gave] the impression of a school system in chaos.”
Yes, but it’s an accurate impression. Holyoke public school students have long underperformed on the MCAS. The reasons for this are myriad: the district has a large concentration of high-needs students — low-income, English as a second language, special education — in their population, and the city doesn’t take in enough tax revenue to make improvements and increase teaching staff or supplies. According to Massachusetts Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester, who is recommending receivership, only 1 out of 3 Holyoke students is reading at grade level. Over the last five years, the school teachers and superintendent have been pointing fingers at each other over who’s to blame for students’ low test scores.
The night before the protest, Superintendent Sergio Paez used the district’s robo-call system to alert parents about the impending action and asked that they bar their children from participating — or face potential repercussions. This isn’t the first time Paez has tried to quash dissenting opinions on receivership. At a March Holyoke School Committee meeting Paez asked community members not to speak during the public comment portion of a Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education meeting so that he and the committee members could present a “united message” to the board.
Students should be applauded for standing up and making sure their voices — the ones that count most — are heard in this debate. It is an especially admirable act given the styling tactics lobbed at them by Paez and the contempt they’ve gotten from the press.
Young people searching for and finding their political voices should be encouraged. Instead they got this:
Following the protest, Paez claimed students were led astray by “strangers” outside the community; and the Republican editorial sincerely asked the kids, Why bother taking it to the streets? “Assuming the matter is still in doubt, Sixties-style protests won’t budge state officials.”
Students did the right thing by standing up for themselves against the odds. ¡Viva Los Rebeldes!•
Contact Kristin Palpini at firstname.lastname@example.org