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THE GREAT DIVIDE

Boston Public Schools denies it wrongfully withheld text messages in exam school admission case, saying there was no coverup

Boston Latin Academy.John Tlumacki

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In new legal filings, Boston school officials strongly denied they committed any wrongdoing in withholding racially charged text messages during an exam school admission case in federal court, saying “there was no direct or indirect cover up of those text messages.”

“The facts are void of fraud, misrepresentation, and misconduct,” according to a motion filed late Tuesday.

The motion represents the first time school officials have publicly addressed allegations levied by a group of white and Asian parents who contend that city officials intentionally concealed the texts to hide racial bias among School Committee members.

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The move came four days after federal District Court Judge William Young denied the school system’s request to delay a hearing scheduled for Friday on reopening the case. In issuing his denial, Young said the Boston Parent Coalition for Academic Excellence raised profound and serious allegations in accusing school officials of wrongfully omitting the text messages from the court record, calling the actions “potentially fraud on the Court.”

The court case is reemerging as the School Committee is on a fast track to vote this month on permanently changing exam school admission criteria — a contentious debate that has pitted city neighborhoods against one another as the committee determines how to make access to the schools more equitable to applicants of all socioeconomic, geographic, and racial backgrounds.

At the center of the legal dispute is a series of texts between then-vice chair of the School Committee Alexandra Oliver-Dávila and then-member Lorna Rivera , which the parent group contend show they are biased against white people. On the night the School Committee approved the temporary plan last October via Zoom, Oliver-Dávila and Rivera exchanged disparaging texts about white parents from West Roxbury. But school officials did not include the texts when submitting evidence earlier this year to the federal court.

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Among the excluded text messages, Oliver-Dávila texted to Rivera “I hate WR” in reference to West Roxbury and Rivera replied “Sick of Westie whites.” Oliver-Dávila shot back: “Me too. I really feel like saying that.”

The withheld text messages recently came to light after an unknown person leaked them to the media, prompting Oliver-Dávila and Rivera to resign. Rivera has alleged the text messages were leaked in an effort to derail permanent changes to the exam school admission policy.

Boston school officials, in submitting texts to the court, relied on a transcript its legal department pulled together in response to a Globe public records request in October seeking copies of all text messages between School Committee members the night of the vote that related to BPS issues, according to its motion. The transcript didn’t include the controversial text exchange.

The parent coalition approved using the transcript as evidence in the court proceedings this spring, believing it was a complete accounting of the messages exchanged between School Committee members that night, according to court documents.

But school officials contend they never indicated in federal court the transcript was a complete record.

“BPS attested that only the exhibit was a ‘true and accurate transcription of text messages,’ which it certainly was. BPS did not attest to it being a complete transcript of all the text messages between the two School Committee members in both their personal and public capacities under the Public Record Law,” according to the school system’s motion.

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School officials offered vague and questionable explanations for the exclusion of some text messages, according to the motion.

“Messages that were personal in nature were not included,” the motion said. “For example, messages about ‘westie whites’ and ‘eating kit kats’ were not included because BPS believed those comments were not made in the member’s public capacity.”

Yet the text exchanges between Rivera and Oliver-Dávila during the public meeting appeared to be made in response to individuals weighing in on the exam-school proposal and the two also discussed what they were eating to get through the long night. Rivera, for instance, noted “Kit kats giving me a boost” in one of the messages.

School officials in responding to the Globe’s public records request worked with the city’s legal department, including then head Eugene O’Flaherty, a longtime political ally of former mayor Martin J. Walsh, who appointed the School Committee. At the time the public records request was being processed, Oliver-Dávila was serving as temporary chair of the School Committee and gained the post permanently shortly after the text messages were provided to the Globe.

The parent coalition, in their quest to convince the judge to reconsider his decision, is hoping the uncovered texts will build upon other evidence they previously introduced that they say proves the temporary plan was racially biased. During the case, the coalition pointed to data that showed the temporary plan would reduce the odds of Asian and white applicants getting in and to comments by former chair Michael Loconto, who was caught on a hot microphone on the night of the School Committee vote mocking the names of speakers with Asian-sounding names.

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School officials, in their motion, expressed doubt that the texts would lead the judge to a different conclusion.

”While wholly inappropriate and evincing extremely poor judgment, these messages simply do not show that the Interim Plan was motivated by racial animus,” according to the school system’s motion. “First, Rivera’s comment — ‘Wait til the white racists start yelling [a]t us’ — merely expresses her personal belief that white people she considers racist would attempt to confront the Committee and challenge the Interim Plan on racial grounds.

“Oliver-Dávila’s response — ‘Whatever . . . they are delusional’ — is equally innocuous,” the motion further stated. “To claim that White racists are ‘delusional’ is not a controversial stand with which any right-thinking person would take issue.”

Rivera and Oliver-Dávila apologized for their texts after they became public, explaining they had received many letters filled with racialized discourse opposing exam-school admission changes in the days leading up to the vote. Oliver-Dávila also said the discussion brought back memories of being discriminated against as a child in West Roxbury. Loconto also apologized for his comments.

Several organizations that intervened in the case on behalf of BPS, including the Boston branch of the NAACP and the Asian American Resource Workshop, also filed a motion urging Young not to reopen the case.

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“To be sure, the texts would add a couple of ‘contemporary statements’ by two members of the School Committee, but when viewed against the totality of the relevant facts, their potential impact on the Court’s finding would be negligible,” their motion said.


James Vaznis can be reached at james.vaznis@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globevaznis.