Schools superintendent Richard Palermo says he was concerned over the Boston students' poor academic performance at Lynnfield High School.
Others said it was racism - the Boston students all are black - or an attempt to boost the district's overall academic performance by getting rid of a few students at the lower end of the academic scale.
Harold Roy is an import from Boston, part of a voluntary program called Metco, that, since the 1960s, has bused kids from the inner city to a better opportunity in the suburbs. He found the academic environment much different in the suburbs than in his old school.
"As soon as I started in Lynnfield, it was like a smack in the face. The teachers were on my back. It was a lot of hands-on stuff. It was real hard," said Roy.
The benefits cut two ways. Families who host the students - like the Polanskys - learn something about diversity.
By all accounts, the program was a success, until Palermo looked at the students' academic performance.
"Twelve of those students had a grade-point average below a C," he said.
Suddenly, the students became outsiders, expendable.
Rather than proposing ways to improve their grades, school officials talked about sending them back to Boston, a move that provoked outrage in the town.
"If children are failing in this program, it's our failure, not their failure," said Jeff Polansky.
"I don't think after 30 years of being in place, we can bail on a program without looking at it," said Sue Polansky.
Peggy Whelan volunteered to create a committee to raise money to enhance the service available to Metco students.
Some supporters said the students became scapegoats as Lynnfield fell under increasing pressure to raise statewide test scores and its ranking.
"They're Lynnfield kids in their eyes if they're doing well, if they're producing all A's and B's. If they have a C or below, if there is any possible behavior problems, they're Boston kids," said Metco Administrator Adreene Law Hampton.
Others suspect worse motives.
"It fits my definition of racism," said Sue Polansky. "To single out a group of kids who all happen to be black: Why are we even looking at their test scores separate from the white kids' test scores?"
Opponents deny racism, but acknowledge that if improving the students'performance means spending more money, it will be a trade-off between "us" and "them."
"It becomes a very difficult issue when you're Â… diverting resources from a limited budget and adding extra for a group of students," Palermo said.
Despite the outpouring of support for the program, the school committee voted to suspend new admissions while it reviewed the program.
The 40 Metco students now in the Lynnfield school system aren't at any immediate risk of being excluded. Several other Boston suburbs have offered to take them in if it should ever come to that.
If it does, however, some people believe Lynnfield stands to lose a lot.