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THE GREAT DIVIDE

Mission Hill School investigations total more than $270,000, with more expected in coming months

The Mission Hill K-8 School.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

The Boston school district has spent over $270,000 investigating the Mission Hill K-8 School, with more costs to come, Superintendent Brenda Cassellius said in a letter to the City Council ahead of its Wednesday meeting.

The district paid $19,975 for a preliminary report by attorney Joseph Coffey, issued in 2021, and has so far been invoiced for $253,286.84 by the law firm Hinckley Allen for its ongoing investigation into the school.

In addition, the district paid $650,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by five Mission Hill families over their six young children’s reports of repeated sexual abuse by the same student, Cassellius said.

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The district in April released the firm’s scathing 189-page report, which revealed the school endangered and failed children for years by overlooking allegations of sexual abuse and bullying, and neglecting students with disabilities. The School Committee voted soon after to close the school at the end of June.

That report was only the first phase of the firm’s investigation into the school. Hinckley Allen will also investigate employee misconduct, including failure to report incidents of student-on-student behavior, and safeguards the district can put in place to avoid similar cases in the future. Investigators also plan to examine whether the district provided sufficient funding and other resources to the school, according to the initial report.

The firm had to break its investigation into multiple phases due to “the unexpectedly high and time-consuming volume of interviews of parents, many of whom sought investigators out,” according to the report.

The investigation was sparked by multiple complaints from parents that Mission Hill leaders ignored their concerns about bullying incidents, and separately, the allegations by the five families of sexual abuse.

In their report, investigators said they learned of even more allegations of bullying and sexual misconduct at the school, as well as additional examples of officials’ lax response to such reports. In brutal wording, they said there was “pervasive indifference” by administrators to allegations of serious misconduct, and termed the school a “failed” institution.

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The firm’s investigation is ongoing, Cassellius said in the letter dated Friday. The letter came in response to a request to the mayor after Boston City Councilor Michael Flaherty earlier this month pushed for more information about Mission Hill, specifically seeking a breakdown of incidents that were not handled in compliance with state law at the school, an explanation as to why the school district retained legal counsel to perform an investigation instead of consulting with Boston police’s crimes against children unit or the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office, and a breakdown of legal fees.

In her letter, which is included in the agenda for the meeting Wednesday, the superintendent also provided a list of nine incidents of sexual misconduct toward students from 2018 to 2020 but said the district does not make legal determinations on whether employees responded in accordance with the mandated reporter law.

“At no time did Hinckley Allen investigators conduct investigations into allegations of sexual assault or any other allegations of criminal misconduct,” Cassellius said.

The initial report, by Coffey, was commissioned in response to a complaint specifically about special education services and compliance with district bullying policy, Cassellius said. When those allegations were substantiated, Hinckley Allen was hired to do a broader investigation.

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In cases where allegations of criminal misconduct were made to investigators, those allegations were reported to law enforcement, the superintendent said.

At their meeting Monday, City Council placed the letter from Cassellius on file without discussion. Flaherty was not available for comment.

The Great Divide is an investigative team that explores educational inequality in Boston and statewide. Sign up to receive our newsletter, and send ideas and tips to thegreatdivide@globe.com.


Christopher Huffaker can be reached at christopher.huffaker@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @huffakingit.