Read text messages in context
Re “School committee chair quits over texts” (Page A1, June 9): I was disappointed to read about the resignations of Lorna Rivera and Alexandra Oliver-Dávila from the Boston School Committee. Their controversial text messages should be read and considered in context. Both women have faced racist harassment in their committee work. Oliver-Dávila shared her personal experience of enduring racism as a student in West Roxbury. They have dedicated their careers to eliminating disparity on an individual and policy level.
Venting about one’s lived experience of racism is not a racist act. This false equivalency lacks any historical basis and is intended to silence people of color. Their texts require discussion, which has more potential to advance equity in BPS than the loss of two dedicated advocates.
I am disheartened by community leaders who framed this incident as an affront to Boston’s diversity. Vague expressions about racial harmony do very little to dismantle institutionalized white supremacy. As the parent of a BPS student, I think this sends a troubling message. Students of color need to know that they can speak to their experiences of racism without bearing the burden of how their white teachers or peers might feel.
Texts exposed an unspoken truth
Former School Committee member Lorna Rivera was right when she noted that the timing of the release of her text exchanges with former School Committee chair Alexandra Oliver-Dávila reflects an effort to derail efforts to make exam school admissions policies more inclusive (“School committee chair quits over texts,” Page A1, June 9). The text exchange expressed an unspoken truth about the Boston Public Schools: that it operates a tiered system designed to maintain white families’ privilege. The result: In a district in which 72 percent of students are Black or Latinx, only 21 percent of Boston Latin School students are Black or Latinx. White and Asian students are overrepresented at 45 percent white and 29 percent Asian. Along with disproportionately high placement rates in substantially separate special education programs and high suspension rates, Black and Latinx students have been systematically pushed to the bottom tier in this district for far too long.
The chance that exam schools will continue to include and represent a more diverse group of Boston’s school-aged children threatens the status quo. Any calls to halt the exam school task force from putting forth recommendations for policy changes are made with the intent of returning to admissions policies of the past, which primarily benefit white families. Boston will miss Rivera and Oliver-Dávila’s leadership in making BPS a more equitable school district.
The writer is a parent of a Boston Public Schools graduate.
Real racism is about the abuse of power
The quotes attributed to Boston School Committee members Lorna Rivera and Alexandra Oliver-Dávila were mischaracterized by Marcela García (“Boston School Committee member resigns over texts,” Opinion, June 8). García conflates Rivera and Oliver-Dávila’s private exchange during a public hearing to be the same as earlier racist derision of people of Asian heritage by past committee chair Michael Loconto.
Rivera and Oliver-Dávila’s expressions to each other were not “inappropriate,” did not “reflect prejudice,” and were not racist. The truth can hurt. Rivera and Oliver-Dávila, who have worked to increase the equity and quality of education for all Boston children, have every right to express to each other their expectation that those who have opposed fairness in education in the past will probably continue to try to do so. The quote from Oliver-Dávila, “I hate WR,” is represented as “expressing hate against a whole neighborhood or demographic.” Even if that were what she meant (and no one knows but Oliver-Dávila), it would not be, as defined by García, “in and of itself, racist.” Racism occurs when those with power to do so injure others because of their racial heritage; and racist acts and attitudes emanate from this power. The one thing García got right is “Oliver-Dávila should stay” on the Boston School Committee. It’s too bad Oliver-Dávila resigned. We all need her.
James L. Sherley
Education is not a zero-sum game
Re “School official out over Oct. comments” (Page A1, June 8): I can understand West Roxbury families’ frustration at having fewer slots for their children at the exam schools. Given the way Boston’s Black children and those of other groups have been poorly served, I can understand Lorna Rivera and Alexandra Oliver-Dávila’s frustration and disgust at what must have seemed to them a demonstration of some West Roxbury residents’ entitlement. What I don’t understand is why Boston has made the matter a zero-sum game. Can’t we make room for all deserving students? Expand Boston Latin so that it accepts all Boston students who have earned a chance to be there. Create other high-quality, rigorous high schools to further expand the opportunities. And while we’re at it, make elementary education pay off for the children who are now being shortchanged. Boston is a wealthy city with lots of smart people. Let’s just get it done so that our decisions don’t foster division among our residents.
Karen Cord Taylor