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Hubie Jones exposed Boston Public Schools for its exclusion of thousands of students with special needs

The Boston Globe logo The Boston Globe 2/21/2022 Bianca Vázquez Toness
In 2014, Hubie Jones (center) received the Governor's Award in the Humanities. © Justin Saglio for The Boston Globe In 2014, Hubie Jones (center) received the Governor's Award in the Humanities.

This Black History Month, the Globe is saluting people from Massachusetts who have made a difference.

Hubie Jones was heading the Roxbury Multi-Service Center in 1968 when several social workers came to him with a disturbing discovery. Children around Roxbury were sent home from their public schools and told not to return. The children had disabilities or emotional troubles, said Jones in a recent interview, and the school leaders said “they could not deal with them.”

Jones, a trained social worker who organized a work stoppage during the civil rights movement, was able to get some of the students back into school by showing proof that the students could function in class and raised money to send others to private school. “But as fast as we did this work, the Boston Public Schools (spewed) a whole group of other kids from the school. This was a serious problem,” said Jones.

“They weren’t going to get any kind of help... so basically, they were staying out of school,” said Jones.

Jones created a task force that ultimately released the 1970 report, The Way We Go to School: The Exclusion of Children in Boston estimated that 10,000 children were pushed out of Boston Public Schools.

The report found many of the students were Black or Latino, had disabilities or emotional problems, could not speak English or were pregnant.

The findings led to a 1971 state law requiring schools offer bilingual education. Then the next year, the State House adopted the nation’s first special education law, which led to the 1975 federal law guaranteeing a free and “appropriate” education to children across the country.

Jones, now 88, went on to chair Boston University’s School of Social Work for 17 years and co-founded or helped shape dozens of organizations, including City Year and the Boston Children’s Chorus.

More than 50 years after taking on BPS, Jones still is trying to improve educational outcomes for children in Roxbury. His latest organization, Higher Ground, works with three elementary schools to provide wrap-around services for students and find housing for homeless students and their families.

“I’m still at this stuff,” he said. “I’m not going anywhere.”

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