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School district to investigate racial climate at Boston Latin

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Boston Latin School.
Boston Latin School.The Boston Globe/Boston Globe

A YouTube video posted by two Boston teenagers has sparked a vigorous online discussion and led to a School Department investigation of alleged racism at the city's oldest and most desirable public school.

In the video, posted Monday — Martin Luther King Jr. Day — the Boston Latin School students decry the use of racial slurs and negative statements by classmates inside the school and on social media, and a school culture in which they say black students are routinely expected to speak for their race.

On Thursday, Boston Public Schools announced it would thoroughly investigate the students' claims and provide mandatory training for all school leaders on how to respond to reports of bias.


"While it is unfortunate that we continue to struggle in this city and in our schools with racial divides and tensions," Superintendent Tommy Chang said in a statement, "I am incredibly proud to know we have students who are able to organize respectfully and advocate for themselves in a thoughtful manner and receive the attention to their concerns that they deserve."

The students in the video, Meggie Noel, president of BLS BLACK — Black Leaders Aspiring for Change and Knowledge — and member Kylie Webster-Cazeau accuse school administrators of failing to discipline students for racist behavior.

Noel and Webster-Cazeau call upon classmates at the exam school to use social media to share their stories of racism by using the hashtag #BlackAtBls, in what they describe as phase one of a campaign.

"We are here today to make our voices heard, to show BLS administration and everyone that we refuse to be silenced, and we're not afraid to speak up," Noel says in the video.

The effort was first reported by the Boston Herald.

Students, alumni, and supporters have responded with Twitter messages offering support and sharing stories of alleged discrimination and marginalization.


"5 years later wondering why teachers at Latin still can't tell their black students apart," wrote the Twitter user @Mika_Vanessa.

User @pcalexander wrote, "When your high school yearbook has a racial slur under your class picture for the rest of your life."

Some in the Twitter discussion say they attended Latin and did not experience discrimination. Others responded with criticism and even taunts for the students.

School leaders are set to meet Friday with the black student group to discuss how to create a more inclusive environment.

City Councilor Tito Jackson said he had spoken to Latin students about their experiences and did not feel that Latin Headmaster Lynne Mooney Teta had responded sufficiently, but he believed an important dialogue had begun.

"I view this. . . as a real opportunity for the city of Boston, and in particular the Boston Public Schools, to have a conversation about one of the most pressing issues of our time," Jackson said.

Charmane Higgins, chairwoman of the Boston Latin School Association, said she had faith in Teta.

"Lynne ... knows that students — particularly our students — are highly intelligent and very much civic leaders," Higgins said.

A School Department spokesman said school leaders responded to racial issues last year by hosting a community forum on race and workshops on appropriate social media behavior, and conducted educational interventions with the students involved.

Latin has been a flashpoint for racial issues before. In 1995, a white father whose daughter was denied admission to the school filed a federal lawsuit opposing racial quotas there.


That suit was dismissed after the School Department admitted the girl to Latin, but it led the School Committee to end a policy of granting 35 percent of Latin's seats to black and Hispanic students.

Currently, 8.5 percent of Latin's students are black and 11.6 percent are Hispanic, according to state data. Nearly half are white.

Across Boston Public Schools this year, 32.4 percent of students are black and 41.5 percent are Latino. About 14.2 percent are white.

Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.