Boston Public Schools officials are out with a new five-year inclusive education plan to address long-running disparities in student performance.

It's part of an agreement BPS made in 2022 to avoid a state takeover, and a reaction to years of underserving Black and brown students in special education and multilingual learning.

“I think it's important when we talk about the inclusive ed plan to talk about why we're here,” Superintendent Mary Skipper told GBH’s Morning Edition co-host Paris Alston. “This is decades and decades of less choice for parents and students in the programs that they were able to select. Instead of us focusing on services and ensuring that could happen across all schools, we very much concentrated them in programs. And that meant more restrictive environments.”

For years, students in special education and English language learners programs underperformed relative to peers in general education classes, Skipper said. Black and Latino students especially were more likely to be placed in such classrooms and be kept there for longer, even if the curriculum did not serve them.

“Sometimes we had English language learners five, six, seven years staying in small classes with only peers who are who are not English speakers. And what that yielded was just really poor performance,” Skipper said. “If you're a Black student, a Black male, you're three times more likely to be in a substantially separate setting with emotional impairment. If you are a multilingual learner, you are two and a half times more likely to be in a substantially separate setting and be diagnosed with a communications disorder.”

And instead of looking at individual students’ needs, Skipper said, the district would often lump students together without enough regard for what would help them learn.

The goal of the new plan, called the Inclusive Education Plan, is to make sure students with special needs and English language learners have more access to grade-level education, Skipper said.

“That is something that sounds as if it should have been happening. But in the reality, when we look at the past, it was not happening,” she said.

She outlined for tenets of the plan: Giving special education students and English language learners access to “high-quality grade level instruction;” giving the students support teams, which include their parents, their teachers and other staff; giving students access to supports and interventions they need; and updating the district’s old buildings to better support students.

“We're working very hard right now to educate all of the staff that will be working with our parents, everything from our family liaisons, you know, up through the actual educators who will be part of that team process,” Skipper said. “The parent still has full ability to decide whether or not the student goes into the inclusive ed setting. But we want to make sure that we help to educate all those folks that are going to be supporting the parents in making that decision.”

In late October, eight members of a 13-member English learners taskforce resigned over part of the plan, saying they were concerned taking language learners out of dedicated classes and asking them to learn English and other curricula at the same time may exacerbate performance gaps.

“I always will begin by thanking all of the members who over decades gave their time here in the city of Boston and in the Boston public schools who are part of the task force,” Skipper said.

But she stood by the changes, saying that years of disparities in performance have made some sort of change necessary.

“Making change had to happen,” Skipper said. “And I think change can be hard. I think we're working very hard with our schools and our community for multilingual learners to make sure that they understand what we are doing and what we aren't doing.”

The district announced on Tuesday that it will delay implementing changes to its English language learners program. Students in kindergarten and 7th grade will see changes in the fall of 2024. Students in grades 1, 2, 5, 6 and 8 will now have to make the change by the start of the 2025 school year. Grades 3, 4 and 9-12 will see changes in the 2026-27 school year.