Amid controversy, Boston Latin headmaster resigns
The headmaster of Boston Latin School, who had been fending off calls for her termination for months amid a federal probe into racially charged incidents at the school, announced Tuesday she is resigning after nine years leading the city’s top exam school.
Lynne Mooney Teta did not mention the federal investigation in a letter to the school community Tuesday afternoon, but she did refer to the controversy surrounding the racial incidents that rocked the school earlier this year.
Teta said the decision was difficult but “one which I believe is in the best interest of our students, faculty, and our historic institution.” Her resignation is effective at the end of the school year.
“I believe that it is time for a new headmaster to lead the school and carry on the tradition of excellence,’’ said Teta, who is also a BLS graduate.
“We have faced challenges this year, and I have been greatly encouraged by the commitment of students, faculty, families, and alumni to work together to collaboratively address issues of racism and discrimination in our community,” Teta wrote.
Superintendent Tommy Chang, who praised Teta’s leadership, called her resignation “a personal decision.” Teta could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
For months, Teta had been resisting calls for her termination from the NAACP and other organizations, who faulted her handling of racial incidents at the school. Those incidents came to light on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in January when two students posted a YouTube video criticizing Teta and other administrators for ignoring or taking too lightly complaints of racism, such as when students use racial slurs.
A School Department investigation in February found that BLS administration properly handled six race-based incidents at the school, but faulted the administrative team for not adequately addressing a seventh incident in which a non-black student threatened a black student.
The findings did little to appease Teta’s detractors, who argued that the review did not go far enough. They subsequently filed a complaint with US Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz’s office, which launched an investigation in March. The investigation remains open, and the resignation would have no impact on the probe, Ortiz’s office said Tuesday.
Throughout it all, Teta refused to step down. In February, she said she would not resign, two days after issuing a letter apologizing for her slow response to racial incidents at the school, saying “No one is more committed than I am to improving the racial climate and culture here at Boston Latin School.”
The resignation comes as classes end on Friday for the school year at Boston Latin School. It seemed to have taken Chang by surprise. He abruptly canceled a previously scheduled meeting with BLS parents Tuesday night.
Instead, Chang held a press conference at School Department headquarters in Roxbury during which he said Teta told him of her decision that morning. He said he has not yet identified a temporary replacement to run the school until a permanent leader is hired.
“This was a personal decision for her, and I know it was not easy for her,” he said. “We had conversations, but I’m going to keep those personal. I have always supported her and her leadership to build a more inclusive environment at the school.’’
Chang said he would launch a national search for a new leader, a process that could take months.
Mayor Martin J. Walsh on Tuesday thanked Teta for her dedication to the job.
“I will work with Superintendent Chang to identify the next BLS headmaster to carry on the school’s tradition of academic excellence, while creating a welcoming environment for all,” Walsh said in a statement.
The investigation by the Department of Justice — and a separate ongoing inquiry by the city’s Office of Equity — were beginning to wear on Teta, said a person with knowledge of the investigation.
“She didn’t want the school to [continue to be] in the media negatively,’’ said the person, who also said Teta had grown concerned about the effect of the inquiries on staff and administrators. “The pressure and everything accumulating took a toll on her.”
Teta’s detractors said her resignation creates an opportunity to address the racial climate at the school under new leadership.
“Boston Public Schools now has an opportunity to embed leadership that values diversity and inclusion, rejects racial bigotry, and is responsive to every student, parent, teacher, and alum,” Michael Curry, president of the Boston branch of the NAACP, said in a statement. “Now is the time to finally address the diversity of the faculty and the student body.”
Curry said community leaders want to work with the school district “to ensure that academic rigor is maintained, and the selection of the new headmaster is responsive to community voice.”
Lori Britton, whose daughter is a BLS sophomore, said she was relieved by Teta’s announcement.
“What’s been obvious to me for the last many months is that there has been a need for change at the school,” Britton said. “Lynn Mooney Teta made the right decision. She’s doing what’s best for the institution and more importantly the students.”
Britton’s daughter, a rising junior at BLS, was at the center of the incident that the School Department investigation faulted BLS for mishandling. Last year, a boy in her class threatened to lynch the girl while holding an electric cord and called her a crude racial epithet. No one at the school had informed Britton or her husband of what happened to their daughter.
Britton said she would like the next Boston Latin headmaster to be someone who is “dedicated to the healthy, social, emotional development of children in all aspects and responsive to all students.”
The two students who initially raised concerns about racism — Kylie Webster-Cazeau and Meggie Noel — did not respond to requests for interviews. But the organization they lead, BLS Black, issued a statement saying it was “just as shocked as the general public to learn of the resignation.”
“We want to emphasize that her decision is completely independent of the mission of the #BlackAtBLS movement, which is to increase racial inclusion and race-explicit dialogue at Boston Latin School,” the statement said. “Change and reconciliation are on the horizon and we will continue to hold our school, now our alma mater, accountable to live up to our motto, Sumus Primi.”
Sumus Primi is Latin for “we are the first,” which is in recognition that Latin School was the first public school in the nation. Teta signed her letter with the motto, too.
Teta’s supporters said they are disappointed that she resigned.
Peter G. Kelly, president of Boston Latin School Association, said alumni “owe an enormous debt of gratitude to her for her exceptional service and partnership.”
“Lynne Mooney Teta has dedicated herself personally and professionally to the advancement of Boston’s youth for more than a decade,” Kelly said in a statement. “She is a compassionate, dedicated, pedagogically talented school leader whose resignation is a profound loss not only for the Boston Latin School community, but also for the broader Boston Public School district.”
City Councilor Matt O’Malley called Teta’s resignation “devastating.”
“She was treated incredibly unfairly throughout this process,” he said in an interview. “She is always working to make BLS a welcoming and inclusive place for all.”