Metro

Students, black leaders question scope of BLS probe

The investigation’s focus on administrative action ignored wider issues with the school’s racial climate, said Kylie Webster-Cazeau (left) and Meggie Noel, Latin School seniors who launched a social media campaign about race issues at the school that led to the investigation.
Matthew J. Lee/Globe staff/File 2016
The investigation’s focus on administrative action ignored wider issues with the school’s racial climate, said Kylie Webster-Cazeau (left) and Meggie Noel, Latin School seniors who launched a social media campaign about race issues at the school that led to the investigation.

Boston Latin School students and leaders of the city’s African-American community say a School Department investigation into racial conflicts at the elite exam school was too limited in scope and left many questions unanswered.

Investigators found that school administrators responded appropriately to several racially charged incidents and insensitive social media messages sent by students, according to an executive summary of the report released Thursday.

But that summary said Boston Latin leaders failed to notify parents of students involved in a 2014 incident when a “non-black” male student used a racial slur and references to lynching in an exchange with a female African-American student.

Advertisement

The School Department has not released the full report. Superintendent Tommy Chang said the document could not be made public because it contains confidential information about students and staff.

Get Fast Forward in your inbox:
Forget yesterday's news. Get what you need today in this early-morning email.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

The investigation’s focus on administrative action ignored wider issues with the school’s racial climate, said Meggie Noel and Kylie Webster-Cazeau, Latin School seniors who launched a social media campaign about race issues at the school that led to the investigation.

“We didn’t feel like the findings represented the whole story,” Noel said.

The investigation’s relatively small number of interviews — 14 — left many issues unexplored, the teenagers said.

“There’s like 2,400 kids and 118 faculty,” Webster-Cazeau said. “There’s a whole lot of people in the building that they could have interviewed. . . . Fourteen isn’t enough to reflect what is really going on.”

Advertisement

The girls expressed dissatisfaction with the investigation’s findings regarding racially insensitive messages posted on Twitter amid a November 2014 student discussion of a Missouri grand jury’s decision not to indict the white police officer who shot and killed an unarmed black teen.

Investigators found that only four Latin School students posted insensitive tweets, including one that read, “The only racism left in the media is reverse racism, there is no coverage of black on white violence, only the opposite.”

Noel said that finding did not take into account the offensive tweets that classmates either retweeted or favorited.

And in the aftermath of the Twitter issue, administrators did not act upon a recommendation from School Department officials to convene a schoolwide discussion of treating people of other races with respect, the report shows.

Local civil rights organizations plan to gather in the coming days to discuss the investigation’s findings and ways to address the racial climate across all the city’s schools.

Advertisement

Meetings are set for Monday evening at Greater Love Tabernacle and Tuesday evening at Twelfth Baptist Church for Latin School students, parents, and members of the local NAACP, the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts, the Black Educators’ Alliance of Massachusetts, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the New Democracy Coalition.

Michael Curry, president of the Boston NAACP, said he is withholding judgment on the actions of Headmaster Lynne Mooney Teta and other Latin School administrators, as the organization awaits the School Department’s answers to questions submitted by the NAACP.

But other leaders in the black community continue to demand Teta’s firing, he said.

“There is definitely a call for her to be removed,” he said Friday afternoon. “That has not changed since the publishing of the findings.”

The School Department said Friday that Teta was not available for comment.

Michael Contompasis, who was Latin School headmaster for 22 years and later served as schools superintendent, said he has known Teta and two of the school’s assistant headmasters for decades and they have his full confidence.

“This is a veteran administrative team,” he said. “They have dealt with issues that are even more severe . . . in not only a timely fashion, but they’ve also dealt with them as equitably as they could.

“The limitation is that they’re not at liberty to discuss all of these cases in detail . . . because they have to be wary of the confidentiality issue,” Contompasis added.

Chang, the superintendent, said Friday that he had addressed issues related to the handling of the student who threatened a classmate, but he could not discuss whether discipline was imposed upon staff.

“All I can say is actions were taken and will be taken,” he said.

Chang said that despite calls for Teta’s firing, he saw no reason to dismiss her.

“She has the massive responsibility of making sure that . . . these sorts of things are never mishandled again, and she will be held accountable for that,” he said. “It’s my responsibility to hold her and the school accountable, and it’s also my responsibility to support them.”

He noted that administrators followed School Department protocols in six of the seven incidents investigated, but said that does not necessarily mean everything was done as he would have liked.

“Just because you follow proper procedures does not mean that students necessarily feel safe,” he said. “That’s why we needed to take a deeper look at our own policies and procedures.”

Noel and Webster-Cazeau said they have never advocated for Teta’s removal.

“We’re really anxious and excited to work with her and to help her develop and better the racial climate at the school,” Webster-Cazeau said.

The students said they also appreciated the long list of recommendations for addressing racial issues and creating more inclusive school cultures. Noel said those proposals are “definitely the first step to creating effective and sustainable change in the culture at BLS.”

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