Family of student threatened wants consequences in the case
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Milton Britton Jr., a Dorchester father, came home from work one evening last June and found his teenage daughter crying hysterically.
The girl, then 15, choked out a secret she'd been keeping from her parents for seven months: A classmate at Boston Latin School, a boy in her Spanish class, said to her, "I should lynch you with this," while holding an electric cord in his hand. He also called her a crude racial epithet.
Britton's daughter hadn't wanted to tell her parents, knowing they'd get upset. But on this day, she'd learned that another BLS student was suspended merely for calling a classmate an enemy. The contrast was too painful to ignore.
The incident is at the heart of the current upheaval at the prestigious exam school. A school department investigation into the racial climate at BLS acknowledged mishandling the girl's case. Of the seven race-related incidents investigated, it was the only case in which the school failed to respond adequately, according to the report. On Wednesday, US Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz said she will launch an independent probe of alleged civil rights violations at the school.
When Britton and his wife learned what had happened to their daughter, they were stunned — not that the threat had happened, but that no one at the school had bothered to tell them.
"How could this incident have happened and the school not reach out to us?" Britton, 45, said during a recent interview at the family's home — the first time the family has spoken publicly about the incident.
"It's not just the fact that he said it and threatened her life, but it is the inaction of the people in power," said Lori Britton, the girl's mother.
The BLS controversy has led some black civic leaders to call for the firing of headmaster Lynn Mooney Teta. The Brittons are among those who have lost faith in her leadership, saying the school's administrators have failed the students. They said they worry about the safety of their daughter, whom the Globe is not naming to protect her privacy.
The Brittons' daughter, who is an honor roll student and participates in several extracurricular activities, said she has tried to move on but it has been difficult —
"I was never pulled into a meeting to talk about how I felt about it and how to handle it in my day-to-day life," she said. "They didn't display any caring about me. It seemed like they cared more about him not getting in trouble."
A spokesman for the school department said he could not comment on matters involving students.
The Britton family has ties to the school, and Lori Britton, an alumna of BLS, encouraged her daughter to also attend.
"I prepared her to be a Boston Latin student from the day she could hear me talking," she said.
Lori Britton, who graduated in 1988, is an active member of the Boston Latin School Association. She also served on the board of directors for six years and was a member of the campaign to raise money for a music wing and library renovation in the late 1990s. Lori Britton's uncle was an assistant headmaster, and two of her daughter's cousins are also alumni.
Lori Britton said she felt some teachers gave the impression they didn't want her at the school because of her race.
She said she expected that her daughter would face racism as a young black woman, but was disappointed that the threat against her daughter was apparently not taken seriously.
"The adults should face consequences that are tangible," she said.
The teenager told her parents that when the lynching threat happened, she told a teacher who notified two assistant headmasters, including one in charge of discipline, soon after. The boy was told to write a letter of apology which he later ripped up when she did not accept it, Lori Britton said.
During a meeting last June, Teta assured the Brittons that the threat against their daughter was an isolated incident. Britton said Teta described the male student as "a silly 16-year-old," and said that his parents were made aware of what happened. But in the school department's review, investigators found that Teta failed to notify the Brittons and the male student's parents. In the report, Teta denied describing the student as "silly."
"I walked away from the meeting wanting to believe" that the incident was isolated, Lori Britton said. "I wanted to believe it was not indicative of the culture at the school."
But in January, after Boston Latin School students Kylie Webster-Cazeau and Meggie Noel took to social media to publicly denounce racism at the school and online in a YouTube video, Lori Britton and her daughter cried together in the family's kitchen.
"I'm realizing my child is in this situation and this is what happened to her and nobody did anything," she said.
Policing experts say a threat such as the one made by the student against the Brittons' daughter should have been investigated by Boston police.
"The lynching [reference] is certainly something that should have gotten the attention of administrators," said Thomas Nolan, a former Boston police officer who is now a criminology professor at Merrimack College.
"[School administrators] may be reluctant to bring police into the building," he said. "They think they can handle it themselves . . . but given the nature of a threat like this and the climate these kinds of undercurrents present . . . I would have erred on the side of caution."
Boston Public Schools officials would not say whether police were notified or if protocol would require school administrators to do so in such a case.
The school department investigation indicates that the male student was disciplined after the initial incident, but school officials would not elaborate, citing privacy laws.
In February, the Brittons filed a report with the school police alleging further bullying incidents, in hopes that the boy will be disciplined.
"You can't say things like that and get away with it," Lori Britton said. "We went through extraordinary channels to get justice for our child and make sure this child learned from his mistake."