By SCOTT MERZBACH
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
AMHERST - As the Puerto Rican flag was raised over downtown Amherst Monday afternoon, members of the local Puerto Rican community used the annual celebration to announce plans to fight a recent elementary school redistricting plan.
Vladimir Morales, who organizes the ceremony celebrating cultural and ethnic diversity, said the town's Puerto Rican Association is deeply concerned with the socio-economic model used by the School Committee that will mean an equal proportion of low-income children attending each of the three remaining elementary schools. The School Committee received a legal opinion that clustering students by ethnicity was illegal; it sought to correct the situation via redistricting the town's elementary schools, timed with the closing at year's end of Mark's Meadow Elementary School.
The association will not be supporting the School Committee's actions, Morales said.
The theme of this year's celebration, which brought a dozen people to Town Hall and will be broadcast on ACTV, is "Democracy for all in Amherst."
Morales said he believes the School Committee's decision was not based on economics, but because the schools had not met annual yearly progress under the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System.
This meant breaking up the clusters of Latino and Cambodian students because their communities are not part of the political process and are generally not affluent, Morales said.
"Never did I think I'd be in the position, an adversary of Amherst public schools," said Morales, a former member of the School Committee.
Nelson Acosta, a community member and parent, said the redistricting plan is not about embracing the diversity of Amherst, but seems to be about putting forward a political agenda.
Citing the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution, Acosta said the plan disproportionately affects Latino and other ethnic groups by ending the philosophy of clustering those students from similar cultural backgrounds and forcing busing. "It attacks the most vulnerable people in the community," Acosta said.
Acosta said it is unfortunate that this is happening in Amherst, where the spirit of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi are usually embraced.
With this spirit in mind, the Puerto Rican flag was being raised, Acosta said. Morales said Puerto Ricans enjoy flying their flag, noting that it has been displayed in solidarity in several other countries, including China and Australia. "We are very proud," Morales said.
The importance of Puerto Ricans to the U.S. is demonstrated, Acosta said, in that the percentage of island's population in military service is higher than in 34 states. The Puerto Rican flag goes up annually at the beginning of November and flies until Thanksgiving. It is meant to celebrate the Nov. 19 holiday on Puerto Rico, the day in 1493 that Christopher Columbus landed on the island.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis proclaimed Puerto Rican Day in Massachusetts in 1989.
My Goal in Blogging
I started this blog in May of 2008, shortly after my election to the School Committee, because I believed it was very important to both provide the community with an opportunity to share their thoughts with me about our schools and to provide me with an opportunity for me to ask questions and share my thoughts and reasoning. I have found the conversation generated on my blog to be extremely helpful to me in learning community views on many issues. I appreciate the many people who have taken the time to share their views. I believe it is critical to the quality of our public schools to have a public discussion of our community priorities, concerns and aspirations.