Chronology of the Early Development of METCO
June 11, 1963
Fourteen demands to improve the quality of education for Boston's black students were presented to the Boston School Committee by the Education Committee of Boston's NAACP, (Ruth M. Batson, Chairperson) with an Admission of a de facto segregation policy affected by the School Committee as one of the demands.
June 18, 1963
Black students and parents hold one-day school boycott to protest the inequalities of segregated schools. This Boston School Stay-Out, organized by the Massachusetts Freedom Movement, was the beginning of suburban involvement in the Boston school problem.
The Boston Branch of the NAACP led picketing demonstrations at School Committee headquarters as a result of inaction by the Committee on the 14 demands of the NAACP's Education Committee.
February 26, 1964
Twenty-thousand black students stage a second school boycott. Some suburban white students attend the day-long "Freedom Schools" set up in black churches and community agencies to protest the Boston school conditions for black children and youth.
A Twenty-one member committee (Kiernan Commission) was established by the State Board of Education to study the effects of racial segregation in schools.
Boardman School parents protest against an inadequate school facility and classroom over-crowding. Parents begin their own busing program by sending their children from Roxbury to the white Peter Faneuil School in the Back Bay.
February 14, 1966
A Proposal was submitted to Carnegie Corporation of New York for funding of a METCO staff and offices.
Braintree, Lincoln and Arlington School Committees request to participate in METCO. Winchester, Sharon and Concord vote to participate when classroom seats and additional funding are available.
Committees are formed in the seven suburban districts to develop community support, select host families and identify METCO community coordinators.
May 24, 1966
The METCO Board of Directors and Central office staff are appointed.
Notice of funding approval received. METCO offices opened at 178 Humboldt Avenue, Roxbury to recruit the first students.
August 13, 1966
The "METCO Bill", filed in December 1965, is signed into law.
METCO staff interviews parents and students, select and assign first METCO students. Bus transportation contracts are arranged.
September 6, 1966
Two-hundred and twenty METCO students, (grades K-11) take the first bus ride to classrooms in the seven suburban districts.
METCO is Born
The planning events for METCO moved at a rapid pace. Already exhausted by organizational demands in the spring of 1966, METCO administrators faced an even more demanding schedule over the summer months. With the school year ending in late June, 220 students had to be selected to enter the seven suburban districts in September.
Human services, social, civil rights, church and community organizations throughout the black community were notified about the application process. Student selection criteria were developed and approved by METCO, Inc.'s Board of Directors. It was decided that METCO would accept students with a range of academic accomplishments--high achievers, average achievers and low achievers--with most being in the average range. Unfortunately, given the low standards of the Boston schools and high grades given for less than rigorous studies, the average student was academically weak compared to the average suburban student. The staff decided that no student with a serious learning disability would be accepted and all students had to be in a regular grade placement.
Dr. Joseph Killory, METCO, Inc.'s first director, was on leave from his position at the Massachusetts Department of Education. He spent his time visiting and working with the suburban superintendents. Associate Director Ruth Batson and Staff Assistant Betty Johnson began the process of screening applications, interviewing and selecting the students.
Mindful that the students selected had to be approved by the suburban district, METCO was ready to battle for and defend its choices. The staff expected clear and specific reasons for any student refused by the receiving METCO district. In one case, METCO selected a child with epilepsy, but the district he was assigned to did not want to accept him. METCO challenged this rejection and the student was accepted. No METCO applicant was interviewed unless accompanied by a parent or guardian. Both students and parents were interviewed and all high school applicants were interviewed separately from their parents. There was one exception, a high school student whose parents would not come for an interview. After several appointments had been "broken", an agency social worker called to explain the family's circumstances. This student was permitted an interview accompanied by the agency representative and was accepted into METCO.
Applications for the program were completed on-site. In the interview process, the staff first asked applicants how they heard about the program and then provided an explanation of METCO's purpose and goals. Students and their parents were asked why they wanted to participate. Invariably the response was, "To get a better education." Few indicated that they wanted an integrated school experience. Parents were asked to describe their child's personality, likes and dislikes, and behavior in and out of the school classroom.
Parents were advised that, "METCO is an interim program. We only expect it to last three years, as METCO only has funding for about three years. As soon as Boston "straightens out", the children will return to their Boston schools." It was emphasized to parents that their children might find this academically and socially disruptive. Not one parent responded negatively to the warning.
Students were presented with the situation they would be facing as METCO participants--rising at 5:30 a.m. and being out on the street as early as 6:30 a.m. to meet the bus, leaving familiar surroundings, being "bused" to an all-white environment, returning to Roxbury at 4 or 5 p.m. or later, and four hours of homework every night compared to none in the Boston schools.
The student response to the program was mostly positive. Many worried about leaving their friends. However, in the separate interviews with high school applicants, only two said that they didn't want to be in METCO. There seemed to be some differences between the boys and girls as to their feelings about being in the program. The girls were more adventurous about schooling in the suburbs, the boys were a bit cautious and reticent. There were also a variety of responses about how participants would handle racial harassment. "I'd ignore it," was the most frequent answer; but, "I'd punch them in the mouth," required some discussion! More than 600 students were interviewed, hundreds of telephone calls and inquires were received, and nearly 1,000 letters asking for an application form were processed. Parents seemed to wait for acceptance letters from METCO with the same anxiety as waiting to hear about their child's acceptance to college. When the final student selections were made, the METCO staff was satisfied that it had embraced these considerations:
- A balance between boys and girls
- Students who represented an "academic mix"
- Students representing varied family backgrounds: professional families, working class families, single parent families, and families on public assistance
- Parents' ability to bear up under the pressure and rigors of the program
- Children with an independent spirit regardless of past academic performance
A mix of neighborhoods where the students lived: Roxbury, South End, Jamaica Plain, Dorchester and Mattapan.
Assignments to the suburban districts were determined by space availability in each grade and parent preferences when possible. Almost every parent wanted their child placed in Newton or Brookline, both communities having regional and national reputations for educational excellence and short traveling distances from the city. Newton had the largest suburban black population, which nonetheless comprised only about one percent of Newton's total population.
Wellesley was the only community for the placement of children entering kindergarten. Later, Lincoln did accept kindergarten. This caused concern for some parents as Lincoln was an upper class community with no black residents. It was unknown to most parents, and entailed a 50-minute bus ride. Arlington was accepting only fifth-graders, and parents were skeptical because of its reputation for housing discrimination. Further-more, Arlington was not considered to be one of the "elite" suburban communities. Lexington was known because of its historical background. It was a popular choice in that it was accepting only junior high students, which represented the largest pool of applicants. Braintree was an unknown quantity to parents and was not a popular choice. But, as one parent said, "It's got to be better than Boston!"
On August 15, 1966, the 220 letters of acceptance were mailed. Parents whose children were accepted were jubilant. Others were disappointed, and some were very angry at not having their children placed. Some parents claimed that the admissions process was biased, that METCO had selected only the "cream of the crop", or worse, the personal friends of the staff. Ironically, when school began, suburban educators complained that METCO students were not well enough equipped. METCO administrators were subjected to a great deal of pressure from these parents in the days leading up to the opening of school in September. Parents telephoned constantly, sent letters, and made unannounced visits to the office--all to request that their children be reconsidered, some literally "begging" that their child be admitted.
The staff had gone to an extreme to eliminate favoritism in the admission procedures and final decisions. Because there were three times as many applicants as spaces, no siblings were accepted. There were several exceptions. The children of METCO staff were selected as were all students from the Boardman School closed by the urban renewal process going on in Roxbury. There was also a situation where the medical hardship of a parent warranted the placing of three siblings. All of the students selected were black with the exception of two-- a boy who was part of the Boardman School group, and a high school girl who was assigned to Brookline High. The Program directors were asked many times why she was placed. The response was that she was the only white applicant to apply, and she lived within the neighborhood area set for selection. There was no reason not to accept her. METCO was funded with private money at that time.
With the selections and assignments completed, the job of orientation for the students, their parents, and the suburban school people and host families began. Freedom House on Crawford Street opened its doors for the preparatory sessions. Since 1949, Freedom House, founded and co-directed by Otto and Muriel Snowden, has been sponsoring race relations improvement and understanding in the greater Boston community.
A mood of seriousness, excitement and apprehension filled the meetings, which were swelled with many family members and friends of these first METCO students. The rationale, purposes and financing of METCO were presented. The possibility of racial incidents, and the physical, emotional and social demands that the students would face, were openly discussed.
The potential benefits of the program were also presented along with reassurances about the support that the METCO staff would provide. These meetings were emotionally draining. While the parents seemed to trust METCO personnel--they hung onto every word--there was a great deal of fear about this "experiment". At times, even METCO workers and staff were overwhelmed by feelings of doubt. Was METCO a good idea? Would it work?
In late August, the students visited their assigned METCO schools. As the buses approached the schools, silence prevailed. They were greeted warmly by the receiving school principals, staff and host family coordinators. In some instances, the school personnel were as nervous as the students. They searched for the right words. People who were skeptical about the program were easy to spot; they greeted the students with "frozen" smiles and stiff body movements.
The students were impressed. Green grass and manicured shrubs around the schools, wide freshly painted school corridors, well equipped gyms and libraries, cafeterias, and the science labs amazed them. They had never seen such things in Boston schools. The return trip home was different. Loud and lively talk prevailed. The first trial had ended successfully.
To promote a supportive environment for the METCO students, each one was assigned a host family in the suburban district. It was the responsibility of each suburban organizing committee to find an appropriate host family for each student, preferably a family with a child of the same sex and in the same school grade as the METCO student. The host family arrangement was especially necessary in Newton and Arlington where elementary students went home for lunch at noontime. The host family was also responsible for the care of the METCO student--a home away from home-- in the event of an emergency, and for providing a ride back to Boston if the bus was missed.
Joe Killory and Betty Johnson tackled the logistics of setting up the bus transportation routes and schedule. Detailed street maps of Boston and of each of the suburban neighborhoods were studied. Each student's residence was pinpointed on seven Boston maps--one for each METCO district. Distances and travel times had to be calculated. Bus pick-up and drop-off points had to be decided. Safety and the length of the bus ride were priority considerations. Young students shouldn't have to cross busy main thoroughfares. Parents requested stops near their homes and safe shelters from bad weather conditions.
As the various transportation routes were developed, traffic patterns in and out of the city during the early morning and late afternoon hours had to be checked. There were a large number of variables to be taken into account. All routes mapped for the buses had to be field-tested by staff in their automobiles. It was decided that all students going to Brookline High would be provided with tickets to ride public transportation, while all kindergarten children assigned to Lincoln would ride in station wagons for safety.
When the bus schedules were released there was a flood of complaints. Parents wanted their children picked up earlier, or later or at different stops. Some requested permission to drive their children to and from the suburban community every day. The staff did not yield to these initial requests. No bus schedule changes were made except where an extreme hardship on the family or student was clear. The plan was to see how the bus schedules and routes worked for the first two weeks, and then make the necessary adjustments. A firm policy that all students had to ride to and from their assigned school on a METCO bus was established. As it happened, after two weeks, most parents and students had adjusted to the original bus schedule plans and few changes had to be made.
The true test of METCO was not the busing routes, but how the children would be received on the first day of school. At the end of August and just before Labor Day, rumors abounded about the lack of support for the METCO concept in the suburbs. The METCO suburban community organizing committees tracked down the various rumors which were determined to be without foundation. In Wellesley, however, the rumors appeared to have some validity. On the morning of the opening day of school, Betty Johnson, Joe Killory and other staff were on the streets at sunrise, covering the bus stops and assisting the drivers with their routes.
Attendance was nearly one hundred percent. Ruth Batson stayed in the office to cover telephone calls from parents and to be ready for any crisis that might arise. In Wellesley, fears of disruption and racial incidents seemed to have some basis when a custodian found the message, "GO HOME NIGGER", painted on the front wall of the school. The message was quickly painted over before the METCO bus arrived and the day went on without further incident in Wellesley.
To everyone's relief, the first day went smoothly and was uneventful in the other six communities. Only a few students had missed their buses, or the buses had missed them. Ruth Batson recalls, "We waited anxiously as the buses headed back to the city to end METCO's first day. My heart was heavy with both fear and excitement. I could not relax until each student was home safely. At 5:30 p.m., with no calls from parents and all students accounted for, I walked up Humboldt Avenue from the METCO office, and turned the corner onto Ruthven Street to my home. We had made it through the first day."