BOSTON (SHNS) – New state regulations regarding admission policies to vocational schools are being prepared for a vote on Tuesday, and advocates are calling for changes before that date to address what they see as gaps in access and equity.
Prior to the Elementary and Secondary Education Council’s vote on the regulations, the Vocational Education Justice Coalition met with council members.
Barbara Fields of the Black Educators Alliance of Massachusetts told a virtual press conference Thursday that the coalition was trying to “appeal to their sense of fairness and justice in their decision-making” and called on them “to remove discriminatory barriers that have a disparate impact on students of color and other marginalized groups.
The proposed regulation, initially presented to council in april then updated after a public comment period, were developed after discussion and analysis of the data “made it clear that the application of a single set of state-mandated admission criteria is not in the best interests of students, families and students. schools and vocational programs, ”according to a memo to Elementary Board of Trustees and Secondary Education Commissioner Jeff Riley.
Among other changes, the proposal would give vocational and technical schools the ability to define their own admission policies “that promote equitable access” and remove the requirement that grades, attendance, disciplinary record and recommendations of counselors should be used as admission criteria.
Riley’s plan would also require every school and vocational program to submit its admissions policy to the state by October 1 – amended from August 15 in the original version – and would prohibit the use of selective criteria that in such a way exclude disproportionately members of protected classes, unless the criterion is “validated as essential for participation” and alternatives are not available.
“Vocational education is determined by many variables, including student interest, labor and market demands, as well as the diversity of student populations, both within and among vocational schools. . »Riley wrote. “I think we can best address this complex problem by allowing schools and individual programs to establish policies that meet the needs of their home communities and comply with applicable federal and state laws and regulations to promote access. equitable for all students, while retaining the role of the ministry to monitor compliance and intervene when necessary.
The Vocational Education Justice Coalition consists of community, labor and civil rights groups who have called for admissions policy changes to open up access for students of color and those who are economically disadvantaged, who are learning the English or who have a disability.
Speaking at Thursday’s press conference, speakers said they feared the proposed regulations would give schools too much leeway, creating doubts that they will result in policies that do not disproportionately exclude marginalized students.
“We are frustrated,” said Peter Enrich, coalition member, chairman of the Massachusetts Progressive Democrats. “We believe the ministry has recognized the problem and has taken some early steps to address it, but has not gone far enough to give us confidence that the important policy goals of fair vocational school admissions can be achieved. We would very much like to see the ministry make further changes before they present their bylaws to council next week, and if they do not, the council will either demand those changes or refuse to implement them. regulations in their current state, disappointing form. “
Among other objections, the coalition expressed concern that the October deadline for submitting admissions policies for the state reduces the potential for oversight ahead of next year’s recruitment period and that the proposed regulation “does not prohibit the use of college grades, unexcused absences and a range of suspensions and expulsions” in admissions policies.
Lew Finfer of the Massachusetts Communities Action Network said the coalition had met with 10 of 11 elementary and secondary education board members and estimated that about a third “were very supportive of our point of view.”
“We hope that on the basis of what we have communicated to the members of the board of directors at the meetings and since they will ask questions and say that these, as has been said, need to be considerably strengthened, the regulations he proposed, ”Finfer said. . “We’ll see Tuesday. It’s a board appointed by the governor, but there is certainly some openness from some people. We don’t yet know if there are six of the eleven willing to really push for the changes.