Holyoke High Students March On City Hall

HOLYOKE - At 9:15 a.m. on Tuesday, a small group of Holyoke High School students – calling themselves “Los Rebeldes” – stood up at their desk, marched out of the school, and stopped, equipped with signs and megaphones, only upon reaching the steps of city hall.

“Los Rebeldes” had one goal – to stop the receivership of Holyoke High School by the Massachusetts Board of Education and Secondary Education. Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester had called for a vote on receivership on Tuesday morning, which would take the school out of local hands and place it under state control.

Why do they think that they know what’s best for us? Why do they think they can make the decisions for us? They walk into our classrooms for one day and think they know us?” asked Desiree Rodriguez, a Holyoke High student, through a microphone on the city hall steps.

“They that we don’t care about education and it always comes back to stereotypes,” she added. “Many of us are people of color and that makes them think that =we don’t care. This is racist of them.”

Video by Paki Wieland

Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse made an appearance to address the students, surprising some students with what was otherwise described by students as a “pointless” gesture of appeasement.

“I’ve said continually that I stand with the teachers and the students of the Holyoke public schools, I’ve been an advocate of local control of the local schools, and so I think we all want what’s best for the city schools,” said Morse from the steps outside his office. “And we have to recognize and appreciate that yes, we can do better but we do have to maintain local control and support the teachers that work for the Holyoke public schools.”

“It felt like he took it as like a joke,” said Holyoke High student Gloria Gonzales. “Especially coming from him that he did attend Holyoke High it’s like, he should really have an idea of how it is and what we really are fighting for.”

Specifically, students dread the longer school days, assessment by standardized testing, and the threat of uniforms that might come with a state takeover. The biggest source of frustration, however, is over a feeling of being unheard on the matter.

“I mean, ask students; they’re the ones being directly affected and so they’re the ones that should have a voice in the decision making process,” said Desmond Whalen, current UMass student and former Holyoke High student.

Unfortunately for the students, Commissioner Chester has been considering state action in Holyoke schools for months, and seems unlikely to be swayed by chants and slogans.

The vote on whether to place Holyoke High under state control will come during one of the Education Board’s monthly meetings, following a public forum for locals to address their concerns.

Read the Comissioner’s full January report on Holyoke Schools, which was presented to the Board in February and serves as the basis for his argument in favor of receivership.