Boston School Superintendent Carol R. Johnson has known since November that one of her headmasters was part of a US Secret Service fraud investigation, but she took no action for three months because law enforcement officials swore her office to secrecy.
An official briefed on the investigation said that, initially, Johnson did not know whether Queon Jackson, acting headmaster of Madison Park Vocational Technical High School, was a victim or a perpetrator in the multistate credit fraud ring under investigation. The investigation is being conducted by the Boston Police Department and the Secret Service.
Johnson did not tell anyone about the investigation, including Mayor Thomas M. Menino, or seek to learn details of the investigation herself, said the official familiar with the situation, who asked not to be named.
But she took action this week after the Globe began raising questions about Jackson’s criminal record, prompting her to ask Jackson if he had anything he wanted to tell her.
Unsettled by his evasive answer, she relayed her concerns to City Hall officials, who quickly learned the nature of the investigation and that he could soon face indictment, the official briefed on the investigation explained. Johnson then placed Jackson on paid administrative leave.
“I think the superintendent of schools made the right decision,” Menino said Thursday. “As soon as she found out about this person, we removed him from his position.”
A spokeswoman said that Menino was unconcerned that Johnson had not told him sooner about the Secret Service inquiry.
“Carol Johnson did the absolute right thing by helping with the investigation,” said Menino spokeswoman Dot Joyce. “When more information came to light recently, she took immediate action. The mayor couldn’t be more supportive of the superintendent in how she handled the situation.”
As word spread that Jackson had been removed from the school on Thursday morning, Madison Park students walked out of class, hoisting hastily written signs that read, “Bring Back Jackson.”
“He’s the reason some of us are still here,” said Kemauree Williams, a 17-year-old junior. “Some kids have nothing to look forward to. He motivates them.”
Students had taken to social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, using the hashtag #bringbackjackson, to announce the walk-out. By 9:45 a.m., more than 100 students streamed out into the football field, then marched to the front of the school on Malcolm X Boulevard. They were soon joined by dozens more, who came out after someone pulled a fire alarm.
“We want Jackson! We want Jackson!” they yelled, many of them shivering in the 27 degree temperatures. Some had rushed out without their coats. One student donned a white shirt with the words “MP for Jackson” scrawled in red marker on the front and “Bring Back Jackson” in black marker on the back.
Several students said they did not believe the report detailed Thursday in the Globe that their 39-year-old headmaster, known for his conservative bow ties and high-water slacks, could be part of a credit-fixing scheme.
“He’s a great person,” said Brandon John, a 17-year-old junior. “He kept me out of trouble.”
Another junior, 17-year-old Paris Thomas, and her friend, senior Brianna Odom, were circulating a petition calling on the school to bring Jackson back.
By 10 a.m., they had gathered nearly 1,000 signatures, Odom said.
Johnson went to Madison Park Tuesday to speak with Jackson amid reporters’ questions about his criminal record. He said that a few years ago someone stole his identity to try to buy a car, an official briefed on the conversation said. But it turned out that investigators have been looking into Jackson’s alleged role in using false information to obtain credit and then not paying the bills.
Jackson had a criminal record when he was first hired by the School Department in 2000. A school spokesman said Johnson was unaware of the details when she promoted him to Madison Park’s acting headmaster last September because her human resource department brings to her attention only criminal cases that result in convictions.
In 2000, Jackson admitted to facts sufficient for a finding of guilty in a drug case, as well as a domestic abuse case that required him to take an anger management class. In the drug case, Jackson was arrested with 3 pounds of white powder that authorities initially believed to be cocaine. The material turned out not to be drugs, and Jackson was charged with possession of counterfeit drugs with intent to sell.
Jackson is the second Boston headmaster to spark controversy about alleged criminal activities in less than a year. Last summer, Johnson came under fire for taking no disciplinary action against the co-headmaster of the John D. O’Bryant School of Mathematics and Science after learning he was briefly jailed for punching and choking his wife.
Jackson declined to comment on Thursday.
School Department spokesman Matthew Wilder said Johnson’s decision to place Jackson on paid leave from his job — he earned $133,000 in 2011 — had nothing to do with reporters’ inquiries. On Wednesday, the same day city officials told Johnson that Jackson was a target of the credit investigation, she called the acting headmaster at 5:30 p.m. to inform him that she was placing him on administrative leave.
Several School Committee members and city councilors declined to comment or did not return phone calls.
Michael O’Neill, the School Committee chairman, praised Johnson’s response Wednesday. “Dr. Johnson came aware of this [Wednesday] and took immediate action,” O’Neill said. “That speaks for itself right there.”