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Boston schools aren’t suspending advanced classes

March 4, 2021 GMT

CLAIM: Administrators at Boston Public Schools are suspending advanced classes for students in fourth through sixth grades because of concerns over racial inequities.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. The school district is pausing a testing requirement for advanced classes for a year because of the coronavirus pandemic, according to an emailed statement from the district. The advanced courses will continue. 

THE FACTS: Social media users this week expressed outrage at the erroneous reports that Boston’s public school system would stop offering some advanced classes because the majority of students taking them were white and Asian.

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“Boston Public Schools have suspended advanced classes for grades 4-6, citing racial inequities,” YouTube personality Joey Saladino wrote. “Smart kids are being punished because of their skin color.”

“Boston Schools Suspend Advanced Classes Because They’re ‘Too White and Asian,’” read a headline from the right-wing podcast The Dan Bongino Show viewed more than 2 million times on Facebook.

These claims are false, according to the school district, which issued a statement clarifying that its “Advanced Work Class program will continue next school year.”

“BPS was unable to administer the exam that is included as part of the program’s policy this past fall because most of our students were learning remotely,” the district’s statement said. “As a result, the Boston School Committee approved a one-year pause of the testing component of the policy.”

The false claims began after the Boston public radio station WGBH published a story about the district’s decision on Feb. 26. The initial headline of the story read, “Citing Racial Inequities, Boston Public Schools Suspend New Advanced Learning Classes.” However, the headline was later changed to clarify that the school district was suspending the city-wide entry process for advanced courses, not blocking schools from continuing the courses in the next school year.

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A tweet from WGBH claiming racial inequities led the district to suspend the advanced program circulated widely online on Feb. 28 before the radio station posted a new tweet correcting it.

“CORRECTION: This tweet erroneously stated Boston Public Schools’ advanced work program is being suspended. The city is only suspending the entrance exam, not the program,” the new tweet read.

Advanced Work Class is a selective program that provides an “accelerated academic curriculum” for fourth through sixth grade students, according to the Boston Public Schools website.

On Feb. 3, the website said, “in light of COVID-19 and disparate impacts on Boston Public Schools students,” the Boston School Committee voted to pause the admissions test requirement for the program for a year. New fourth grade students will be admitted to the program based on different standards determined by school leaders, according to the district. New fifth and sixth grade students can be added to the program if there are seats available.

Though Superintendent Brenda Cassellius told WGBH that equity concerns did not drive the decision to pause the admissions test requirement, a district analysis did find a lack of diversity in the program relative to the school district’s demographics.

The analysis found that the advanced program’s student population was more than 70% white and Asian, even though the district’s student population is majority Hispanic and Black.

“A working group was recently established to discuss concerns around declining enrollment in the program, equitable access for all learners, and to provide a recommendation as to the future of the program,” the district’s statement said.

WGBH declined to comment further on its clarified story and corrected tweet.

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This is part of The Associated Press’ ongoing effort to fact-check misinformation that is shared widely online, including work with Facebook to identify and reduce the circulation of false stories on the platform.

Here’s more information on Facebook’s fact-checking program: https://www.facebook.com/help/1952307158131536