FRESHMEN and sophomores returned to South Boston High School peacefully yesterday. They rejoined their junior and senior classmates for the first full-attendance school day since a racial melee involving over 200 persons occurred at the school last Thursday.
"Things seemed pretty much back to normal," said Boston Mayor Raymond Flynn. "South Boston High is still suffering from the early scars of busing, but the students are still getting an education, and they are courageous people."
Busing began in 1974 when a federal judge ordered that schools be desegregated. South Boston is a primarily white neighborhood.
Students had mixed reactions about returning. Senior David Ortiz said, "I am going to jail. This ain't school." He said racial tensions have been heightened inside the school, explaining that white South Boston residents are keeping a distance from Hispanics and blacks with whom they formerly mingled.
He described a school in which students are forbidden from lingering in hallways, must have a security guard escort them to bathrooms, and where those bused in are whisked off school grounds by school buses at day's end.
Although city and school officials have downplayed the confrontation, some residents say it is not over.
Boston School Committee Chairman Paul Parks, who is black, said recent events - and their racial component - were overplayed by the media. "If what happened last week happened in 1974, it would be seen as a minor incident."
However, two black men and one black woman arrested outside the school Tuesday for disturbing the peace held a press conference at which they said the situation is not peaceful. They said they were inviting students from public schools all over Boston to speak at a meeting Saturday.
"The children are in pain right now; we can't impose a peace on them" by ignoring the issues, said Bill Batson, one of those arrested. "It's inviting an explosion."