Rhode Island · School Talk

Mom Pens Ugly Letter but the Community Pushes Back

The other day my stomach turned a little when I opened up my local paper. A mother in my town penned a letter to the editor to complain about all the children from India that were filling up her son’s school, and, in her opinion, taking resources away from more deserving children.

“You’re holding back the bright ones,” she wrote.

We all know there are plenty of people who think this way, but to see it in black and white, in a letter by a fellow mother in my community, was a punch to the gut.

The students she is complaining about are the children of Indian parents here on H1-B1 visas to work for CVS. This mother assumes that the children of foreign CVS employees are not bright, and certainly not as bright as her son. It’s the quintessential example of prejudice. If only I could introduce her to the countless students of recent immigrants I have known—and taught—over the years who have earned 4s and 5s on AP exams, taken college classes while still in high school, and gone on to study at top tier colleges and universities.

We all share the same town and that means that we all have the same right to an education as any other resident, whether they have lived here for 20 years or 20 days.

Opportunity hoarding has become a buzzword in conversations about equity and education in recent years. It’s often overused, but in this case it’s spot-on—it is precisely what this mother is trying to do.  She wonders if her child will be able to get what he needs and deserves but shows little regard for the needs of his classmates whose parents likely have the same hopes and dreams for their children that she has for hers. They are Cumberland residents and they have as much right to attend Ashton School as anybody else. Would she say the same ugly things about a military family stationed here for only two years? Or a Fidelity Executive transferred here, with his family, for two years?

She pines for those good old days before students who might move in two years were allowed to take from her son that which she believes he is more entitled to as a permanent resident. Suddenly, the fact that her son doesn’t have a desk is the fault of children of foreign workers employed by CVS and has nothing to do with the actual truth that no one in the class has a desk because the classroom is set up with tables or flexible seating. She makes the odd claim that she was “promised homework every night” and asserts that the promise has been broken because teachers can’t finish lessons with all these students who simply aren’t as intelligent as her son.

This mom also complains about the school’s Title I status and makes the assumption that low income families don’t have high expectations for their children’s futures the way she does. But many professionals, myself included, have opted out of our neighborhood schools that serve very few low income students so that our children can attend Blackstone Valley Prep, a public charter school that serves a majority low income population. We see see economic diversity—and by extension, racial diversity—as an asset in a school setting. Doctors, lawyers, architects, financial analysts, and college professors have made the conscious choice to send their children to a high-poverty school.

The silver lining of this mom’s decision to submit such an ugly letter to the local paper is that Ashton School parents and other members of the community have pushed back hard. While it only stands to reason that there may be some in the community who share the views expressed in the letter, there are plenty who do not. Just today there are three letters in the same paper—two from parents, one from a teacher—denouncing what the mother wrote last week. And the school principal weighed in on Facebook: 

And to the families made to feel unwelcome by the cruel words of one parent, one resident, please know that we reject what she said and welcome you to the community and to our schools.


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