Some background on this issue:
1. In 2017 I around 5 pm I picked my son up from the Jackson Mann
and saw a rat running through his classroom. I contacted our city
councilor, who took immediate action. ISD, BPS facilities, the exterminator,
and the councilor were at the school that night and again early the next morning.
I was able to walk through the building and observe serious structural issues.
The walls were bowing out, causing the windows to leak or in some cases to pop
out. The roof had detached from the walls. Serious exterior and interior leaks
were found all over the school; some rooms had what appeared to be black mold. Evidence
of rodents was widespread. Ceiling tiles were missing or damaged; fire
extinguishers were rusted into their holders; teachers were using broken
bookcases and cardboard panels as walls, as the building has few actual classrooms.
(You can see some photos here: https://www.facebook.com/happytobemad/media_set?set=a.10219505355810428&type=3)
It became clear to me during that walk-through that the structural issues of
the building, combined with the fact that its layout was totally inappropriate for
a school, meant that it needed to get demolished and rebuilt.
2. Later in 2017, the city released a facilities review of all
BPS schools (See: Executive Summary of 2017 SMMA Report").
This report stated that the Jackson Mann building was in "good" condition.
(Ominously, the report states that the Lyon k-8, Winship, and Edison are in only
"fair" condition.) I challenged these findings at the May 23, 2017,
"BuildBPS" meeting at the Edison School. I was told that the building
needed repairs but had no serious structural issues.
3. In 2018 I noticed that enrollment at the Jackson Mann
was shrinking dramatically. I asked a BPS official and they confirmed that they
were no longer assigning students from other areas of the city to the JM. In
the past, the JM had taken students who were unable to be assigned close to
their homes. I asked if this was because they were planning on closing the
school and I was told no, it was simply a result of more efficient assignment
4. On January 17, 2019, BPS held a BuildBPS meeting at
the Gardner Pilot Academy in Allston. The only Allston-Brighton item in the
BuildBPS budget was a new boiler for the Lyon K-8 school. I asked why the
Jackson Mann was not on the list for rebuild. I was not given an answer.
5. On Feb 25, 2019, Councilor Essaibi-George held a City
Council hearing on Build BPS. At that hearing, I asked BPS leadership if they
were planning to close the Jackson Mann. They said that the Jackson Mann was
one of the schools they were looking at closely for facilities issues. The Councilor
asked for a direct answer and that "It's frustrating to hear that we're
planning to make a timeline for conversations." They promised a direct
6. In early April 2019, I received a call from then-BPS
COO Hanlon. He wanted to let me know that the decision had been made to
demolish the Jackson Mann facility. I talked with him at length. I asked him if
any space appropriate for a school was available in Allston-Brighton: No. I
asked if the city had plans to end the lease on the former Hamilton school to
relocate there (I don't think they should do that, I just wanted to cover all
options): No. I asked if there were any plans to build a school in Allston-Brighton:
No. I asked how long it would take to build a school in Allston-Brighton if
they did decide to do so: at least 7 years, probably more like 10 years.
7. On April 9, 2019, BPS announced that after June 2021,
the Jackson Mann facility, which houses the Jackson Mann K-8, the Horace Mann
School for the Deaf & Hard of Hearing, and the Jackson Mann Community
Center & Preschool, would be closed and demolished. BPS insisted that the
school was NOT closing.
8. On April 10, I attended School Committee to testify about the Jackson Mann. I was not allowed to present my full testimony, but I shared it on Facebook and Twitter and it was published by Schoolyard News. I challenged the claim that BPS is not closing the school. I was not given an answer from that body.
9. On April 30, 2019, a meeting about the Jackson Mann
was held in Dorchester. I was one of four caregivers in attendance. At that meeting,
BPS insisted once again that the school was not closing. They stated that they
had not identified any available spaces in Allston Brighton for the school. They
said that since almost half of the Jackson Mann students live outside of
Allston-Brighton, the school may be relocated to Dorchester, Roxbury, or
Mattapan. A parent asked if BPS was planning to let the remaining Allston
Brighton schools absorb the current Jackson Mann students. BPS replied that
they are looking to "build capacity" in the Dorchester area in
particular, and that Allston Brighton schools are enrolled under capacity and
can easily absorb the current Jackson Mann students. A BPS official stated that
the Jackson Mann has one of the largest autism programs in BPS, and that is not
ideal. The district's goal is to distribute autism programs "more
equally" among BPS schools.
10. On July 22, 2019, WBUR published a heartbreaking story on the terrible conditions at the Jackson Mann: https://www.wbur.org/edify/2019/07/22/boston-school-building-issues. That article, like all the others, failed to question the increasingly ridiculous claim by BPS and the city that the Jackson Mann is not closing.
11. In late 2019, West End House Boys & Girls Club began calling all their Jackson Mann families to ask if they were aware that the school facility was closing. The majority of their families had heard nothing about the closure.
12. On February 4, 2020, West End House sent all Jackson Mann families a letter stating that the Jackson Mann was closing and that families should transfer as soon as possible. The letter provided resources for transferring and offered assistance. BPS responded with a robocall to all families saying that the claim was false and the school was NOT closing.
13. In my opinion, it's clear that BPS has intended to close
this school for at least two years, probably more. I believe that BPS refuses to call it a "school closure" because doing so would
generate press and a possible outcry. So instead, they have chosen to let the
school dwindle away. The families with resources and means will transfer out; the
rest will be moved to some remote location far from Allston-Brighton. At this
point, BPS says it will move the entire school into swing space, preserving the
very successful autism and inclusion programs as a unit. However, BPS said the
same thing to West Roxbury Academy and Urban Sciences Academy in 2018. And when
the time came to move those schools, the families suddenly found that themselves
scrambling to transfer to other schools, because BPS reneged on its promise to
them. I sat through hours of testimony from crying parents
and students at West Roxbury and Urban Sciences Academies. They pleaded for BPS
to keep its promises to their students. They talked about how their kids had
finally found stability and a supportive learning environment at their schools,
and now all of that was being taken away. I don't want to hear our Jackson Mann
families begging BPS to provide the public education every student deserves.
14. BPS needs to be honest with us. If they plan to move the
school to another neighborhood, they need to let families know immediately. They need to
provide Jackson Mann students with an open transfer period (not limited to
certain dates) and allow them to transfer online and/or in person at convenient
satellite locations like the Jackson Mann, West End House, or the library. (Currently
you have to drive to a Welcome Center in Dorchester, West Roxbury, or Roxbury
to transfer in person during business hours). They need to guarantee placement
at an Allston-Brighton school for current Jackson Mann students who wish to stay
in the neighborhood. And during this difficult transition period, when resources
are shrinking and families are leaving, BPS needs to provide arts, music,
fitness, science, and library teachers for the students. Our students can't afford
to lose a year of schooling just because the city wants to save face.
I hope you will come to the meeting tonight to support public
education. This is happening to the Jackson Mann now, but it's happened to other
BPS schools over the past few years and it will continue to happen unless we
Public education is the cornerstone of democracy. Strong schools make strong communities. This isn't just MY fight and it isn't just a Jackson Mann fight and it isn't just a public school parent fight -- this is everyone's fight. What kind of city do we want to be?