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THE GREAT DIVIDE

Mother who says teacher hit her son faults Boston Public Schools: ‘I had trust and faith they would keep my son safe but they didn’t’

Mission Hill School has faced allegations that administrators improperly dealt with student bullying and other incidents.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

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The 8-year-old boy, who struggles with social-emotional issues, needed a timeout from his third-grade classroom at Mission Hill K-8 School in Jamaica Plain, but his teacher refused to let him go, telling him in a raised voice not to ask her again. He left anyway.

Displeased, his teacher allegedly chased him into the hallway, the boy’s mother said, grabbed him so hard by the upper arm that she left imprints of her fingers on him for days, and then spanked him on the behind. Her son in return kicked her, the mother said.

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In the months following the alleged incident in November 2017, the outraged mother repeatedly pressed the school’s principal at the time and top Boston Public Schools officials to fire the teacher, according to e-mails she sent to them about the incident, which she shared with the Globe. But the teacher remained at the school.

“If I did this to my child, I would lose my child, but it’s OK for a teacher to do this? I don’t understand,” said the boy’s mother, who asked not to be identified to protect her son’s privacy. “It’s disheartening that the Boston Public Schools don’t have better policies and procedures to protect children.”

The mother’s allegations, which she raised again last August, are among many concerns school officials are investigating as part of a sweeping probe into whether the administrators and teachers at Mission Hill K-8 School mishandled cases of misconduct by their colleagues and students.

So far BPS has placed two school leaders and two teachers on leave because of various allegations tied to the investigation being handled by a private law firm.

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One of the teachers on leave is the same one the mother accused of grabbing and spanking her child. A school spokesperson confirmed that the mother’s latest complaint prompted BPS to put the teacher on leave.

The slow pace of the investigation has frustrated the mother. She heard from the investigators in December via e-mail, four months after renewing her complaint.

“I just want my son to feel safe and get an education,” she said.

She said her son has struggled with post-traumatic stress from that mid-November day in 2017 and other interactions he had with the teacher previously. He is still at the school, one of the few that offers specialized services for his disability. “Sometimes he can’t go into a classroom. He tenses up and becomes anxious,” she said.

His special education plan describes him as curious, creative, and friendly, a student determined to do his best work and who takes pride in his accomplishments. But it also notes he doesn’t like to get things wrong and consequently can become frustrated and distracted. The plan calls for teachers to divide his work into smaller chunks and to give him breaks to relieve anxiety.

The teacher and the principal declined to comment. The principal, who resigned in 2019 returned a year later as a teacher, but left again last August. BPS would not say why she departed.

A mural outside on a wall at the Mission Hill K-8 School in Jamaica Plain.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

Controversy has been swirling around the Mission Hill School since last summer when BPS agreed to pay $650,000 to five families who alleged in a federal lawsuit that the school failed to protect their children from a student who they accused of sexually assaulting them.

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In reaching the settlement, BPS did not admit to wrongdoing. But other parents subsequently came forward with separate allegations about the school mishandling other complaints.

Boston school officials have shared few details about those allegations, but Superintendent Brenda Cassellius said during a School Committee meeting last fall that an initial review found “evidence that was credible and substantial and included reports dating back at least five years. The findings also uncovered many more concerns that warrant a deeper look.”

Scores of parents have repeatedly defended the school, which serves about 200 students, voicing frustration at School Committee meetings last fall over the secrecy of the investigation and concerns about the school’s future.

The father of one student expressed surprise in an interview with the Globe that the teacher at the center of the mother’s complaint was accused of inappropriate behavior. He said his son had a positive experience with her, but emphasized not every student has the same experience with a teacher.

“She really understood what he found relatively easy and encouraged him to work on things that challenged him,” said Andrew Iliff, whose son had her in third and fourth grade. “She really pushed him a lot on his writing.”

The mother of the boy who allegedly was grabbed and spanked in the hallway said getting BPS to do the right thing has been frustrating. She was volunteering at the school on the day of the incident and saw her son crying in the hallway, but he didn’t want to talk about it. Later at home, she noticed bruises on his arm and became alarmed, she said. He then told her what happened.

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“You could see a thumb and fingers,” she said, adding she brought him to the pediatrician the next day. “I had trust and faith they would keep my son safe but they didn’t.”

The pediatrician advised her to file a complaint with the state Department of Children and Families, which she did. It’s unclear what the outcome was. The mother has been unable to obtain a copy of the report. The agency declined to comment, citing privacy laws.

The mother also began pushing the principal to fire the teacher, but she said the principal didn’t seem to take her concerns seriously.

As far as she knows, the teacher was never disciplined and she had to repeatedly urge the principal to file a report with school police. A month later, the principal told her in an e-mail that she had, but that e-mail left the mother with lingering questions about whether the case was brushed under the carpet.

She thought it odd the principal characterized the incident in the e-mail as her son “being hit on the leg.” The principal also revealed in the e-mail, which was shared with the Globe, that an officer interviewed her son earlier that day — without giving her the opportunity to be there. Instead, the principal wrote in the e-mail that she herself was present for the interview, adding that the boy had “clearly explained what happened.”

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A school bus parked at the Mission Hill K8 School in Jamaica Plain.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

Yet when the mother asked her son about the interview, she said, he told her he never spoke to the police, and to this day she has been unable to get a copy of the school police report.

Frustrated, the mother asked top BPS officials in early 2018 to intervene, writing in an e-mail, “I don’t think it’s fair that my son keeps getting victimized by seeing this teacher in the school.”

But her complaint didn’t go anywhere, she said.

BPS would not release a copy of the police report to the Globe, saying it would impede the current investigation. A spokesperson would not say if the teacher was disciplined four years ago.

The mother is hoping she will finally get justice for her son.

“I’m a parent who always advocates for my child,” the mother said. “BPS doesn’t like when parents speak up. But my job is to protect my child from anyone who is harming him.”


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