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Controversy over texts shouldn’t overshadow need for more diversity at Boston Latin

Boston Latin School
Boston Latin SchoolPat Greenhouse/Globe Staff/The Boston Globe

Alexandra Oliver-Dávila clearly did not want to step down as chair of the Boston School Committee.

She quit as chair of the committee Monday in the face of a public outcry over comments that disparaged white residents of West Roxbury. She and another committee member, Lorna Rivera, had traded text messages about grumbling parents during an October School Committee meeting that approved a change in the admissions policy to increase diversity in the city’s exam schools.

Rivera was pushed out, too — she quit Friday, when she learned that the exchange was going to become public.

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As previously reported by Globe, this was the exchange:

Oliver-Dávila to Rivera: “Best school committee meeting ever, I’m trying not to cry.”

“Wait until the white racists start yelling at us,” Rivera texted back.

“Whatever. They’re delusional,” texted Oliver-Dávila.

“I hate WR,” she texted Rivera again, in reference to West Roxbury.

“Sick of Westie whites,” Rivera replied.

“Me too. I really feel like saying that,” Oliver-Dávila texted.

Mind you, this was the same School Committee meeting in which then-chair Michael Loconto mocked the names of Asian speakers, forcing his ouster a day later. (Oliver-Dávila replaced him as chair.) It’s probably safe to say that never has a single school committee meeting resulted in so much collateral damage.

The sad part of all of this is that all three of the members being forced out had just taken one of the most consequential votes of their time on the committee, standing up for the very worthy cause of increasing equity at Boston Latin School.

That critical decision — which was years in the making, though prompted in part by COVID — now risks becoming a footnote.

“I regret my personal texts, it was inappropriate, but I am not ashamed of the feelings from history that made me write those words,” Oliver-Dávila wrote in resigning. “My lived experience of growing up fearing people from certain neighborhoods, the neighborhood I lived in, is real and is what helped shape who I am today.”

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To be clear, Oliver-Dávila and Rivera were wrong to tar an entire neighborhood as racist because some residents opposed this change in policy. West Roxbury residents don’t deserve that. It’s no surprise that West Roxbury politicians like Matt O’Malley — a Boston Latin alum who actually supports some changes to the admissions formula — were demanding that Oliver-Dávila step down. Political leaders across the city were virtually unanimous in condemning the indefensible exchange.

But it’s also true that school politics come heavily laced with neighborhood resentment. That two Latina women would be offended by powerful white parents advocating against what they saw as a bid for increased diversity is understandable, even if poorly expressed.

In terms of cold political calculations, I suppose Loconto, Rivera, and Oliver-Dávila all had to go. But we shouldn’t overlook the fact that pushing out three members of the committee won’t do anything to address the real issue of creating more equity in the city’s exam schools — in particular at Boston Latin, the most coveted and least diverse of the three.

I hope that the passion that united our city’s leaders in demanding that Oliver-Dávila step down will come to bear this summer, when the School Committee is expected to take up permanent changes to exam school admissions policy. I hope they care as much about the issue as they do about hot mikes, private texts, and personalities.

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The shame would be if reckless language that wasn’t intended to become public became an excuse for backtracking on addressing equity. Rivera has already suggested that the leak of the texts was a ploy in advance of the School Committee’s forthcoming vote. I hope she’s wrong.

But there’s no feeling of triumph in any of this. Once again, all sides in a heated debate over the Boston Public Schools are accusing their adversaries of bad faith. We’ve been here many times before.

But now there will be a few new faces on the School Committee. I’ll venture one prediction: No one will be sending any texts during the next meeting.


Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at adrian.walker@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Adrian_Walker.