A Lynn mother has started a petition drive to overturn a controversial public school policy that she maintains gives preference to non-whites when a student is trying to switch schools.
Patricia O’Malley, who is white, believes her daughter was a victim of reverse discrimination when her attempt to transfer from Marshall Middle School to Pickering Middle School was denied.
“It’s just not right that you can base this solely on race,” O’Malley said during an interview at her home this week.
The policy in question is Lynn’s Public Schools Voluntary Plan for School Improvement and the Elimination of Minority Isolation approved by the Lynn School Committee and the Massachusetts State Board of Education in February 1988.
According to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts general law chapter 71, section 37D, “racial isolation” occurs when more than 30 percent of the students are non-white.
So preference is given to minorities trying to switch schools under the policy.
But the Department of Education website states just 24.5 percent of the students in the Lynn school system are white, as opposed to 49.4 percent Latinos and 12.4 percent blacks.
“If that is not racial isolation, I don’t know what is,” O’Malley said. “The system is no longer working and needs to be fixed.”
School committee member Rick Starbard said he too thinks the policy should be changed.
“It sounds ridiculous (that) even though white children are a minority they are still viewed as a majority,” he said.
O’Malley learned about the policy when she wanted to get her soon-to-be sixth-grade daughter transferred out of Marshall Middle School, which is the closest middle school to her home.
She said Marshall students perform poorly on standardized tests and she doesn’t the school has a safe environment for her daughter.
“I am petrified of what will happen is she goes to Marshall,” O’Malley said.
School committee member Donna Coppola agrees with the current policy.
“I think the policy in Lynn is a good one. It allows every single child to go to their neighborhood school,” Coppola said. “If a child doesn’t want to go to their neighborhood school, it can it make it more unbalanced.”
Coppola is suspicious when people want to change schools.
“I am always concerned when a parent doesn’t want to go to a school. Do they just want to go to a white school or is it something else?” Coppola said.
While O’Malley and Walker have received positive praise about the petition, they are finding it difficult to persuade people to sign it. Twenty-three people have signed so far.
“I think people are afraid that they will come off as racist,” Walker said.
The two have even been accused of being racist themselves.
When Walker posted the petition’s link on her Facebook page, a few of her friends fired back.
“One friend told me just because you are in the minority doesn’t make you a minority,” Walker said. “People think we want special treatment because we are white. That is not the case. We just want the same opportunities as everyone else.”
In the worst-case scenario, her daughter will only attend Marshall for one year and O’Malley said she will move if she had to.
“I don’t want to move, but I will,” O’Malley said.