This Op-Ed was originally published by The Worcester Telegram.
Ruth Rodríguez Fay: It’s about time somebody admits racial disparities exist in Worcester
By: Ruth Rodríguez Fay
Feb. 22, 2021
It’s been said many times, the first step to resolve any problem is to acknowledge that there is a problem.
After spending years pleading with city officials to listen to our community and to address the institutional racial disparities and inequality, it gives some of us hope to read, “City Manager Edward M. Augustus Jr. signed the executive orderacknowledging the role structural and institutional racism has played and continues to play in the city.”
It was a sad day when we attended a School Committee meeting to address this issue only to have a member of the School Committee deny our experiences. In his 40 years working in the Worcester Public Schools, he said, he never saw racism as a problem.
When I began working for the Worcester Public Schools the majority of the student population was white, while Blacks and Latinos were the minority. The district was considered among the state’s top providers of education with a top curriculum and services such as counseling, adjustment counselors and nurses.
There was never any police hired by the district to take funds away from teaching and supportive services. Somehow, today, when the majority of the student population is now Latino and Black, the district feels like there’s a need for policing. And not a need to diversify the schools’ staffs.
As the first school-community liaison hired for the Transitional Bilingual Education Program, I have been witness to institutional racial disparities both personal and on the families and students that I worked with.
The first year of the bilingual program we shared the space with the St. Paul’s Catholic School on the second floor. The following year, the district chose Adam Street School where the program was to be permanently housed. The first week of school, as the school-community liaison I was shown the playground where they had drawn a yellow line and was told, “your students cannot cross the yellow line!”
This was our welcoming.
Later embarrassed by the negative response, they erased the yellow line. But, the disparities of treatment continued as I would hear disparaging remarks about the children and the families, saying, “those families don’t care about their children’s education.”
I sat down with the great principal, Mr. Carroll, and asked him if he would allow me to organize the families to attend a parents’ night meeting. I would show him and the rest of the school staff how much my people really cared about their children’s education.
He contacted the families, I served as translator, and the school was shocked to see that we had almost 100% of the families attend.
So again, I want to thank City Manager Eduard M. Augustus Jr. for his courage to take on this important position of acknowledging the racial disparities in our city and promising to work on meaningful reforms.
Ruth Rodríguez Fay was the first school-community liaison hired for Worcester’s Transitional Bilingual Education Program.