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BC High chairman says it’s not the time to discuss going coed

Boston College High School
Boston College High SchoolCraig F. Walker/Globe Staff/file

After months of highly divisive debate over whether Boston College High School should go coed, the chairman of the school’s trustees said Tuesday the time is not right to consider whether the all-boys institution should start admitting girls.

The statement represents the first time that Chairman John McQuillan has directly addressed in public the swirling speculation that he and some trustees had been quietly exploring the idea of converting the Jesuit-affiliated school into a coed institution in an attempt to address a drop in applications over the last decade.

“Beginning a conversation about coed today is not in the best interest of the school,” McQuillan said.

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The two-sentence statement did not address the Globe’s questions about whether he had been engaging in conversations outside the board room to build support for a coed model, as had been suggested by his critics. He instead limited his comments to only those discussions that occurred during trustee meetings.

“Boston College High School has never formally considered a change in policy to admit girls,” he said.

Some of McQuillan’s critics questioned the timing of his statement.

“Is this a statement he prepared with a PR firm about the best interests of the BC High community as a whole or is it about turning down the volume to save his seat on the board?” said Mike Vaughan, an alumnus and parent.

McQuillan, who has been facing calls for his resignation from a growing number of alumni and parents, issued his statement a day before trustees are scheduled to hold a special meeting to discuss disagreements among board members, some of which center around the coed issue.

The board is also expected to hear a presentation on a proposal that would reduce the size of the sprawling board, which boasts nearly three dozen trustees. Some of McQuillan’s detractors are framing the expected proposal as an attempted power grab by the chairman to stack the board with his supporters.

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In an unusual move, the meeting is not being held at the school’s Dorchester campus and instead will be at a Back Bay law office.

BC High has been in an uproar for at least a month over the possibility of admitting girls.

In April, McQuillan revealed to the community that applications to the school that educates nearly 1,600 boys in grades 7-12 had declined sharply over the last decade and that the board would work with the archdiocese and the Jesuits to “conduct a comprehensive evaluation of BC High options.”

Although McQuillan never mentioned the options that might be examined, the board has previously surveyed parents, alumni, faculty, students, and others about their thoughts on going coed or downsizing the school, among other possibilities, to deal with declining interest in Catholic education and an overall decline in the school-age population in Massachusetts.

Fueling speculation that McQuillan and some trustees might be mulling a coed model was McQuillan’s inclusion in his letter that the examination of any proposed remedies would include the effect it would have on BC High’s market position and the “impact it could have on other Catholic schools.”

The uproar intensified in recent weeks after the Globe reported on the controversy and McQuillan did little to quell the debate. Instead of denying any discussion was underway about going coed, his statement to the Globe on May 5 side-stepped the issue and said simply the board would develop a strategic plan to address marketwide enrollment challenges.

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Surveys conducted by a consulting firm on behalf of the board two years ago indicated that most parents and alumni opposed the idea of going coed, while students and staff were more receptive.

A Jesuit leader warned McQuillan as early as March that Cardinal Sean O’Malley opposed BC High going coed out of concern that it “would be extremely detrimental to the all-girls Catholic secondary schools in the Archdiocese of Boston,” according to a copy of a letter the leader sent to McQuillan that was obtained by the Globe this month.

Joe Donahue, a former BC High trustee chairman, said McQuillan made the right call in not proceeding with any discussions about going coed, but said the timing of his comments might be “too little too late.”

“He’s done damage now to his own leadership,” he said. “The sooner the school can get past this the better off everyone will be.”


James Vaznis can be reached at james.vaznis@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globevaznis.