School Superintendent Tommy Chang met with Boston Latin School students on Monday to discuss race relations at the prestigious exam school, on a day when some students dressed in black in a silent protest against what they have described as a racist climate.
Chang said he “had a very profound conversation” with leaders from BLS BLACK — Black Leaders Aspiring for Change and Knowledge — a student group that launched a social media campaign last week encouraging Boston Latin students and alumni to share stories of alleged discrimination.
“I applaud them for raising their concerns over racial issues at their school and for sparking a citywide dialogue about diversity, inclusion, and equity,” Chang said in a statement. “I am grateful for the support of the BLS administration, including Headmaster Lynne Mooney Teta, who today shared with the school community a letter with an action plan to help create a more welcoming school climate for all students at BLS.”
Chang said that plan included professional development opportunities for educators and chances for students to voice concerns in a safe space.
“An important goal of the Boston public schools is to ensure all of our students, regardless of race, culture, sexual orientation, or gender, are offered a safe and respectful learning environment,” he said.
Some students have said Latin does not provide such an environment.
“It’s not just racism against black people,” said Imani Ziad, 14, of Dorchester. “It’s racism against Spanish people, and Asian people, and Native American people.”
Standing outside the school after dismissal on Monday, Imani said it is not unusual to hear students refer to each other using racial slurs in the school’s hallways. And teachers sometimes ignore the raised hands of black students, she said, calling on white classmates instead.
She said even some of her black classmates are not sensitive to the way other students are treated.
“Those are the kids that don’t get picked on, or they get the special treatment from the teachers, who don’t see a problem,” she said.
A classmate, Laila Pearson, also 14, said she had not personally experienced racism, but some of her friends have.
“I think people sometimes just don’t understand that things that they say can affect others,” Laila said.
The goal of the campaign is raising awareness and changing the way students interact, Laila said.
Her father, Cochise Pearson, said he was “very disappointed that the school would have . . . this kind of negative environment.” But he is proud of his daughter and the other students who are standing up and demanding respect, he said.
“She has heard how some students are really open in terms of speaking in racial, negative terms, such as the n-word,” said Pearson, of Dorchester. “Boston Latin seems to have this atmosphere that it’s OK to have racial epithets.”
Last week, the School Department announced that it would investigate the students’ allegations and provide mandatory training for all school leaders on how to respond to reports of bias.
On Monday, Mayor Martin J. Walsh said he plans to meet with Latin’s students.
“This has certainly bothered me, what happened here with these young students, something that should not happen,” he said. “We have to really look at what’s going to happen district-wide. We have to make sure this doesn’t happen.”
“The experiences that our kids have in our schools shouldn’t be racism,” he added. “The experiences should be positive, and we want to build a system that it is positive.”