Boston Latin teachers, parents call for return of headmaster, top aide
Mayor Martin J. Walsh and Superintendent Tommy Chang faced a growing backlash Thursday over the resignation of Boston Latin School’s headmaster, as faculty upstaged their press briefing outside the school and parents and teachers urged them to bring back the headmaster and a top administrator who had resigned.
By midafternoon, an online petition started by Latin School parents garnered more than 350 signatures. Some parents encouraged supporters to reach out to the mayor directly, posting his cellphone number online and, in at least one instance, suggested the text message language: “What’s your plan Marty? #wearebls.”
The uproar reflects the intensifying crisis at the nation’s oldest school, which has been rocked by allegations of racial discrimination that have led to official investigations. The ensuing controversies prompted the resignations this week of headmaster Lynne Mooney Teta and longtime assistant headmaster Malcolm Flynn.
Latin School will end its classes Friday with no clear indication of who will lead the school while the school system conducts a national search for a new headmaster. Whoever serves in the post temporarily or permanently will face the difficult task of healing deep wounds and resentments while also continuing work to foster greater racial harmony.
But many parents and faculty just want Teta and Flynn to return, and their supporters intend to hold a rally at the school 10:30 a.m. Friday. There was no sign that Walsh and Chang planned to honor the demand.
“[Teta] understands the culture of the school, the mission of the school and most importantly the kids at the school,” said Paul Toomey, a Latin School parent. “This is a place where a kid from a triple-decker or a project anywhere in the city can rise up and get a great education and have doors opened for the rest of their lives.”
Walsh and Chang waded into the heart of the discontent Thursday morning, venturing inside Latin School’s iconic building in the Fenway, where they had hoped to build bridges with an agitated faculty. When Teta and Flynn stepped into the private meeting, faculty erupted in applause.
The meeting grew heated and contentious at times. Many teachers implored Chang and Walsh to reject the resignations of Flynn and Teta.
Walsh told the faculty they would get through the difficult period. He defended Chang, saying the superintendent had inherited the present crisis.
“My point is, we need to move forward,’’ the mayor said. “And I know that you are upset and you are angry. … I just know this guy [Chang] is here to help.”
English teacher Lynn Burke shot back, saying Teta also inherited a longstanding climate of racial unease at Latin School, where she spent nine years as headmaster. Burke said that the problems the BLS black students highlighted are real and complex, but that they arose in part because students of color were underrepresented.
Chaos later ensued outside the school, where Walsh and Chang held a press briefing. They had hoped to show a unified front, but as the mayor spoke glowingly about the school, dissent began to mount from the faculty and staff behind him.
When a reporter asked Walsh if teachers had urged him to reject the resignations, a teacher interrupted the mayor. Leaning around, the teacher spoke into the reporters’ microphones as the mayor looked on in silence.
“Please reconsider Dr. Teta. Please reconsider Mr. Flynn. Please reconsider. Please,” she said.
Soon a group of about 100 teachers and staff in purple T-shirts began gathering on the school’s front steps, drowning out both the mayor and the superintendent as they chanted “BLS! BLS! BLS!”
The faculty erupted into applause and cheers when joined by Teta and Flynn.
With news cameras rolling, Flynn described Latin School as a safe, high-achieving environment, saying, “I’ve been crying all day.”
Not everyone faulted Walsh.
“I think at the end of the day, in my experience, I’m with Mayor Walsh,” said Trevour Smith, a Latin math teacher. “We need to learn from the past and be able to build a better future for our students.”
He said he thought faculty and staff were generally divided in their feelings about how officials have handled recent events. Among the 2400 students, whites represent nearly half; Asians are 29 percent; Hispanics are nearly 12 percent; and blacks are nearly 9 percent.
Controversy in the school began in January, after a pair of black students took to YouTube to allege that racism simmers at the school. The students alleged that Teta did nothing to address the tense racial climate.
Their video sparked a public outcry, with civil rights leaders demanding that Teta step down and urging a federal investigation. The US Justice Department and the School Department launched investigations.
The School Department review found that the BLS administration properly handled six race-based incidents, but they faulted the administrative team for failing to adequately address a seventh incident in which a female black student was threatened last year by a male student of another race.
The federal investigation remains ongoing, as does a separate inquiry by the School Department’s Office of Equity.
Both Teta and Flynn have raised concerns about the circumstances and atmosphere surrounding the probes.
Flynn said on Wednesday that the School Department has been unfairly and punitively questioning teachers and administrators, and blasted Chang as not being aggressive enough in defending the school’s efforts to foster racial harmony.
Paula O’Gilvie, a Latin School parent, said that Teta made mistakes but was doing the best job she could to address racial discrimination.
“As an African-American mother of four children of mixed race, the lynching incident was the most severe,” O’Gilvie said.
But she added, “Leaving the school without a headmaster and its most tenured administrator turns it into a rudderless ship.”