At a time when issues of racial justice and equity have risen to the top of a lot of political to-do lists, a school that has provided quality education for a largely nonwhite student body for the past 20 years ought to be a shoo-in for equitable treatment. Right?
So why is it that the well-respected Roxbury Prep can’t seem to get any traction on its plans for a new high school on the site of a now-shuttered auto service center on Belgrade Avenue at the edge of Roslindale near West Roxbury?
This tuition-free public charter school educates some 1,500 students in grades 6 through 12 — some 97 percent of them Black and Latinx. In this most problematic of school years, Prep just graduated a class of 96, all of whom have been accepted to college.
But currently, its high school is divided between two locations, five miles apart, with no cafeteria and no sports fields — the gym is at the local Y. Yes, education isn’t about the buildings, it’s about what goes on inside — and clearly that’s working. But still, these kids deserve better.
And yet plans for a state-of-the-art high school that would accommodate 560 students — at a location readily accessible to commuter rail and the MBTA and already zoned for a school — has been waiting for more than a year for approval by the Boston Planning and Development Agency.
Roxbury Prep officials did their own analysis of the time it takes most projects to go from the close of the public comment period to approval and found that the average is 83 days. The proposed high school has now passed the 400-day mark.
Sure, a pandemic has intervened. But a pandemic seems to be the least of the project’s worries.
Shradha M. Patel, the school’s founder and its first principal, attributes the stalemate on the school’s future to “systemic racism.”
“There’s a small group of all-white opponents in West Roxbury who have the mayor’s ear, and who have displayed both overt and covert racial motivations for their opposition from the very beginning,” she said in an e-mail.
The school has repeatedly modified its plans to address community opposition, decreasing the number of students who would be attending from 800 to 560, agreeing to all manner of traffic mitigation measures (no students would be allowed to drive to the school), and emphasizing that no yellow school buses would be pulling up to its doors.
The newly elected city councilor who represents the district in which the school would be located, Ricardo Arroyo, has filed a letter of support. Unfortunately, opposition from elected officials has split largely along racial lines.
The BPDA has raised no particular issues with the plan itself. But this looks like a case where the agency — and the mayor it is answerable to — have become obsessed with achieving consensus in a city still suffering obvious racial divisions. The school’s leadership has reportedly been presented with a possible alternative city-owned site, but that would mean additional years of delay — and giving in to the NIMBYism of a small group of locals.
This is a time when the city ought to be reexamining its conscience in a million ways big and small. It is also a time for the elected officials who have opposed the Roxbury Prep project to examine their own consciences.
The BPDA website makes much of the fact that today the agency “has a unique opportunity to create a more equitable city for all.” It does. And a new Roxbury Prep high school can be part of that. It deserves to be put to a vote