Bias report faults Boston Latin teachers, administrators
An investigation into the racial climate at Boston Latin School that reviewed more than 100 allegations of “bias-based” incidents found that teachers and administrators had violated discrimination and harassment policies 10 times in recent years, school officials announced Wednesday.
Investigators with the Boston Public Schools’ Office of Equity concluded that administrators had mishandled six complaints by “failing to appropriately investigate, document, and/or take steps to prevent recurrences of bias-based conduct.” In four other cases, teachers who had been accused of bias-based conduct toward students were found to have violated school policy.
A separate report released Wednesday found that students were reluctant to report incidents because of “a lack of trust.’’
In all, investigators examined 115 reports of what the report described as bias-based conduct at the school, dating back to 2012. Most of the incidents were documented during a January meeting with a student group, Black Leaders Aspiring for Change and Knowledge (B.L.A.C.K.).
The findings come after months of controversy over allegations of racial discrimination at the city’s elite exam school, which have spurred a federal civil rights investigation. In June, the school’s headmaster, Lynne Mooney Teta, resigned, and the assistant headmaster has also stepped down.
Boston NAACP president Michael Curry said the report demonstrates the need for city officials to make the school more welcoming to people of all backgrounds.
“I believe there are many complaints and stories that remain untold,” Curry said. “Hopefully this is a wake-up call to BLS administrators and alumni who believed we didn’t have a problem.”
Rahsaan Hall, who directs the Racial Justice Program at the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, said he was not surprised by the finding that administrators had failed to properly handle bias-related allegations.
“Given what we had heard about some of these incidents, and seeing the response from the administration prior to our report to the US Attorney’s Office, it speaks volumes about the environment that existed there and concerns about bias-related issues,” Hall said.
School officials said investigators interviewed 134 administrators, teachers, staff, students, and parents as part of the review, which did not include details about the allegations. A majority of the cases included racial or ethnic bias and few involved other forms of bias, according to a school department spokesman.
“We take every concern regarding possible bias seriously,” Superintendent Tommy Chang said in a statement. “We will continue to focus on supporting BLS students, parents, staff and administrators as we move forward as a community to foster and sustain an environment where all feel valued and can flourish.”
Boston City Councilor Tito Jackson said the latest report shows “that there was, and is, a culture and climate issue that was created by the previous administration.”
Jackson said the allegations of racial bias at the school were “numerous and serious,” and urged officials to explore whether similar problems exist at other Boston schools. He praised students Meggie Noel and Kylie Webster-Cazeau, whose YouTube video in January brought concerns about the school’s racial climate to public attention.
“Their courage – I call them the Harriet Tubmans of our time – has led to a very important inquiry into, how do we make the Boston Latin School, the climate and culture, better?” he said.
Noel and Webster-Cazeau could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
In a statement, Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh said that “any incident of racial bias in our schools is unacceptable.” School officials have created a reporting system to “ensure that every student’s voice is heard,” he said.
Walsh expressed confidence in the school’s new leadership and its ability to “ensure all students are in an environment where they feel safe to learn.”
The school system issued an executive summary of the report. The full report was not released to protect student and employee privacy rights, a district spokesman said.
Investigators reviewed 11 allegations of “insufficient action” by administrators and found fault in six cases. Students were found to have violated school policy in seven cases, out of 39 allegations of biased conduct.
The report follows the earlier review of seven race-based allegations, which were brought to the attention of administrators between November 2014 and January 2016.
That review, completed in February, found that administrators had mishandled an incident in which a black female student was called a crude racial epithet and threatened with lynching by a male student.
The Globe reported in June that one of the allegations in the earlier review involved an accusation against a student with whom Teta had a personal connection. The accused student allegedly ridiculed two female students, one white and one African-American, using a racial slight over text messages and Instagram in March 2015.
Black enrollment has dropped sharply at the school over the past 20 years. Boston Latin’s student body of about 2,400 is now 47 percent white, about 12 percent Latino, and 8.5 percent black.
A separate consultant’s report released Wednesday, called a “racial climate audit,” found low levels of reporting bias-related incidents, indicating “a lack of trust regarding the school’s anticipated response; belief by some students, across racial lines, that administrators and faculty do not effectively intervene when observing or made aware of inappropriate behaviors.”
Richard W. Cole, an author of the consultant’s report, said the climate at Boston Latin was “within the range of what you would expect to find in diverse or demographically changing schools that have not engaged in comprehensive strategies to address those issues.”
Assessors found several problems that probably prompted the initial complaints, he said, including staff members who were not adequately trained to address racial issues, many demeaning racial and ethnic jokes, a sense of isolation among some black and Latino students, and some social separation by race.
But many staff members and faculty seemed committed to talking openly about the issues that must be addressed to change the racial climate, he said.
“Every district has strengths and challenges,” he said. “It’s just a reality of the American experience. What you want to do when you’re looking forward in addressing these concerns, is use these strengths as a springboard.”