Metro

Boston Latin alumni decry ‘secret process’ for admissions changes

Superintendent Tommy Chang (above) says the group is looking into revising admission policies at Boston Latin School, Latin Academy, and the O’Bryant School of Math and Science.
Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe/File 2016
Superintendent Tommy Chang (above) says the group is studying obstacles that may hinder racial diversity during the admissions process at the city’s three exam schools.

Influential Boston Latin School alumni said Sunday that they were surprised and concerned to learn of a school department group exploring changes to entrance requirements for exam schools, which they say have long served students “of all races, creeds, and backgrounds.”

In a letter to Superintendent Tommy Chang, the Boston Latin School Association’s board of trustees decried the formation of an advisory body looking into whether changes would help increase black and Latino enrollment at Boston’s three exam schools.

The letter, which was shared with friends, parents, and alumni at Boston Latin, noted that many — including Mayor Martin J. Walsh — had been surprised to hear of the discussions.

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“We urge you to rethink this secret process immediately and allow a broader community conversation,” the letter said.

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The exploration results from allegations of racial discrimination at Boston Latin, the city’s top exam school, where some students accused administrators of responding inadequately to complaints about racially charged behavior.

Chang has said the group is looking into how to ensure that all students have a fair chance at attending Boston Latin, Boston Latin Academy, and O’Bryant School of Math and Science. Currently, students must not only have excellent grades to get in, but they also have to pass a rigorous entrance exam.

A federal court ruling prompted the school system to stop using race as an admissions factor more than 15 years ago.

The letter lauded efforts to improve access to the schools, including expanding advanced studies and exam preparation for elementary school students, but it said the working group could prove counterproductive.

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“While access to exam school education is a matter that requires attention and is already under way, work toward change in admission criteria should proceed with great caution and only through a wholly transparent process,” the letter said.

On Sunday, Boston school officials rejected the notion that the group was kept from public view. A statement from the Boston Public Schools department stressed that the group has no power to change policy.

“The purpose of the working group is to study and better understand obstacles that may hinder the racial composition and admissions at the district’s three exam schools,” the statement said. Chang was not available for comment.

Michael O’Neill, chairman of the Boston School Committee, said Sunday that the group is “not a committee and not a panel.”

“It’s strictly a working group that the head of equity put together to provide some data and analysis for the superintendent,” he said.

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He said that any change in admissions policy must be approved by the school committee.

‘Work toward change in admission criteria should proceed with great caution and only through a wholly transparent process.’

Boston Latin School Association board of trustees 

The advisory group is working to make recommendations by the start of next school year, following a timeline established in a report by the school system’s Equity Office.

On Friday, after the Globe published a story online about the effort, Walsh said he was unaware that the group had assembled.

“I have a lot of concerns about it. . . . I don’t think it’s the right time to be talking about it,” he said at the time. Walsh could not be reached for comment Sunday.

Rahsaan Hall, director of the Racial Justice Program at the ACLU of Massachusetts, said he is pleased by the creation of the group, which he said could create “an opportunity for high-performing black and Latino students to be considered.”

He said test scores and grade point averages alone can’t determine which students are able to achieve at a high level.

“BLS is a public school,” said Hall, who had not seen the Boston Latin School Association’s letter. “We want to make sure that as many students as possible have the opportunity to enroll.”

At Boston Latin School, data show that 8.5 percent of students are black, and 11.6 percent are Latino. Districtwide, 32.4 percent of students are black, and 41.5 percent are Latino.

James Vaznis of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Alexandra Koktsidis can be reached at alexandra.koktsidis@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @akoktsidis.