The Boston School Committee, once synonymous with fierce resistance to racial integration, took a historic step Wednesday night and threw off the last remnants of forced busing first imposed in 1974 under a federal court desegregation order.
Instead of busing children across town to achieve racial integration, the committee adopted a new plan designed to allow more students to attend schools closer to home.
That was the objective sought by Mayor Thomas M. Menino, who last year appointed a special advisory group to overhaul the outmoded system. He said that keeping students closer to home would encourage more parental involvement, develop neighborhood cohesion and ultimately improve the schools.
“Tonight’s historic vote marks a new day for every child in the city of Boston,” the mayor said in a statement.
The drawback, according to many parents who spoke during a hearing before the committee’s deliberations, was that the new system would leave some children, mostly those of color, in the lowest-performing schools.
“No way we can stand around the playground and say, ‘Yeah, we’re all getting a fair shake,'” one father said.
They were also upset that the committee had not addressed what they viewed as the district’s fundamental problem: the scarcity of good schools. The plan would affect 40,000 students, those between kindergarten and 8th grade. The district’s 17,000 high school students can attend any school they want.
The vote marked the first time in more than a quarter-century that the school committee, much reconstituted in the intervening decades, was able to agree on a new student assignment plan beyond a change to its algorithm in 2005.
The new plan, adopted by a vote of 6 to 1, wipes out the current district system of three vast geographical zones. An algorithm will produce a list of at least six schools from which parents can choose; at least four of them must be of high or medium quality, as determined by standardized test scores.