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Latin School headmaster in spotlight amid racial controversy

Lynne Mooney Teta addressed parents during Curriculum Night for Parents in the auditorium at the Boston Latin School.
Lynne Mooney Teta addressed parents during Curriculum Night for Parents in the auditorium at the Boston Latin School. Matthew J. Lee/Globe staff/FILE 2010

The headmaster of prestigious Boston Latin School faces intense scrutiny following allegations that she failed to take sufficient action when presented with racist comments students made on social media.

Some black community leaders have called for the firing of the headmaster, Lynne Mooney Teta, since students at the exam school launched a public dialogue about experiences of racism there, leading the district to investigate the school’s handling of conflicts.

“Based upon what the students have stated, the sentiment is that it may be time for her to move on,” said Darnell L. Williams, president of the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts.

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Through a School Department spokesman, Teta declined to be interviewed. The department said it could not comment on the allegations until it completes its investigation.

Amid the calls for Teta’s dismissal, some Latin School alumni, parents, and former colleagues of Teta have rallied to her defense, saying she is an effective and even-handed leader.

“Anybody that is suggesting that this rises to the level where you have to remove the administrative team, I think, is way out of line,” said Michael Contompasis, a former Latin School headmaster and Boston superintendent who appointed several members of the school’s administration.

At the center of the controversy are allegations by students Meggie Noel and Kylie Webster-Cazeau, who launched the #BlackAtBls social media campaign.

The teenagers say Teta failed to properly discipline Latin School students who posted racist messages on Twitter in November 2014, following a Missouri jury’s decision not to indict Darren Wilson, the white police officer who fatally shot unarmed black teen Michael Brown.

Mayor Martin J. Walsh has expressed skepticism about the school’s handling of the tweets, saying school leaders should have taken immediate action. He stressed that the district’s investigation is ongoing but said he would support discipline if administrators failed to respond appropriately.

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“When this investigation is complete, if it warrants further action ... I will be recommending action, no question about that,” Walsh said in an interview last week.

Williams, of the Urban League, was among about 15 civil rights activists and ministers who called an urgent meeting with Superintendent Tommy Chang on Feb. 2, Williams said, to show the community’s support for the students who launched the #BlackAtBls campaign.

Williams said he thought it was appropriate to wait until the investigation is complete before Teta’s fate is decided, but he said others in that meeting called for her immediate removal.

Ernani DeAraujo, a 1999 Latin School graduate who is working with other alumni to draft a public letter of support for Teta, said she has promoted diversity and engaged citizenship at the school.

“We know Lynne — as a mother, an educator, and leader of BLS — and know that her love for these kids won’t let her rest until meaningful change is achieved,” DeAraujo said in an e-mail. “When the media glare dies down, Lynne will continue to be there for the kids at Latin.”

Teta is a 1986 Latin School graduate and the school’s first female graduate to serve as its leader, according to the School Department. She received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Harvard and returned to Latin School as an assistant headmaster in 2004, becoming headmaster in 2007. She is the mother of a freshman and a sophomore at Latin School.

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Helen Dajer, a former member of the Boston School Committee and mother to three recent Latin School graduates, described Teta as a strong, capable leader. She said Teta took decisive action on another highly sensitive issue several years ago, when it came to light that some students at the school were exchanging sexually explicit content through their cellphones.

“She was swift and efficient with it, but it was never publicized,” Dajer said.

She said school leaders like Teta sometimes face a conflict between the community’s desire for transparency and the need to protect student privacy.

“As someone who maintains strict confidentiality, I think she works a lot behind the scenes, and people don’t see all the work she’s doing,” Dajer said.

Rashaun Martin, who taught history at Latin School from 2001 to 2010, said Teta was sensitive to issues of race at the school and supported efforts to recruit and retain students of color. Teta asked elementary and middle school principals to encourage black and Latino students to apply to the city’s exam schools and to provide resources to help prepare them, he said.

Martin said he found it implausible that Teta would fail to act on accusations of racism.

“I do believe these are issues that she would have taken seriously,” he said. “I don’t know what steps she took ... but there’s just no way that she completely sat on it.”


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

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