Fed up with the refusal of Boston’s School Committee to improve the decrepit schools available in black neighborhoods—or acknowledge the unconstitutional segregation exposed by the Kiernan Commission—a group of parents boycott their assigned schools and attend “Freedom Schools” set up by churches and community centers. Many white students from the suburbs join them in solidarity. Still, city proposals to bus students and legislative efforts to prohibit racial imbalance are resisted by white activist parents and officials.
Taking matters into their own hands, two African-American parents, Ellen Jackson and Elizabeth Johnson, lead “Operation Exodus" as the school year begins. Four hundred Roxbury students enroll in mostly white schools in Boston neighborhoods with surplus capacity. Suburbs like Brookline begin to ask how they can participate. By December, the METCO Bill is proposed: a state funding stream for any town that wishes to enroll Boston students in its public schools in order to address racial isolation.
The first 220 students, aged 5 to 16, ride buses from Boston neighborhoods to schools in seven suburbs: Arlington, Braintree, Brookline, Lexington, Lincoln, Newton, and Wellesley. The Carnegie Corporation foots the bill.
The state legislature passes Massachusetts General Law Chapter 76, Section 12A, which grants school committees the right to "adopt a plan for attendance at its schools by any child who resides in another city, town, or regional school district in which racial imbalance...exists in a public school [in order to] eliminate such racial imbalance." It makes the Commonwealth of Massachusetts financially responsible for any town that wishes to enroll students from outside the district for the purpose of racial integration. METCO has executed this program ever since.
Jean McGuire becomes the fourth executive director of METCO. She leads the organization for the next 43 years.
METCO Directors in participating districts form the METCO Directors' Association (MDA) to provide support and resource-sharing across towns. It has evolved to be a leading convener of trainings and knowledge on multicultural education, parent empowerment, and advocacy for sustaining and improving the METCO program.
Ten years after its start, a total of 37 receiving districts had signed on to host METCO students.
A drop in state funding prompts heated debate and organizing among METCO staff and supporters. In an effort to set standards for what districts are obliged to provide in exchange for receiving part of the grant, METCO Directors form a Needs Assessment Task Force to assess disparities and define expectations.
METCO Directors from seven suburban districts create a training program called Empowering Multicultural Initiatives (EMI) to help teachers and administrators grow their anti-racism practices, advocate for multicultural curricula, and foster truly inclusive equitable classroom environments.
The Pioneer Institute and Harvard Law School release a comprehensive research paper on METCO, called "METCO Merits More," concluding that "it is important to preserve METCO and put energy and resources into improving it because it effectively provides thousands of students access to well-functioning, opportunity-rich schools and creates racial and ethnic diversity, which is linked to numerous educational benefits for students of all racial backgrounds."
METCO celebrates its 50th anniversary, serving over 3,300 students in over 190 public schools across the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. It has become a Boston-area institution, helping thousands of students learn and grow up with diverse classmates and excellent educational opportunities, and go on to be civic leaders and accomplished community members. If you're one of them, join the METCO Alumni Network!
The Board of Directors appoints community activist and METCO parent Milly Arbaje-Thomas to be the first CEO of METCO.