Fueling the fires of a crisis at Boston Latin School

BOSTON, MA - 6/23/2016: L-R Dr Chang supt of Boston Schools in middle Mike O'Neil charman of Boston School Committee and Mayor Marty Walsh speaks to media. Faculty demand Dr Chang and Boston Latin School reject resignations of headmasters. Mayor Walsh held a closed door meeting and then spoke to media afterwrds. (David L Ryan/Globe Staff Photo) SECTION: METRO TOPIC 24BLS(2)
Tommy Chang, the superintendant of Boston Public Schools (left) and Mayor Walsh (right) spoke after a closed-door meeting at Boston Latin School. David L Ryan/Globe Staff Photo

Mayor Walsh, through his politically expedient refusal to stand up for Boston Latin School headmaster Lynne Mooney Teta, has allowed an entirely preventable crisis to engulf the crown jewel of the Boston Public Schools. It’s not too late to undo the damage, but Walsh needs to recognize quickly that his past avowals of support for the school have been insufficient.

Indeed, it’s amazing that Teta put up with the half-hearted support from Walsh for as long as she did. The headmaster, who finally submitted her resignation this week, was targeted by civil rights activists and tarred for months as an uncaring racist, while the mayor and school department failed to fully defend her.

Now, it appears, she’s no longer willing to play the piñata. Teta and another top BLS official submitted their resignations this week. The school’s faculty is in open revolt, understandably appalled by the school’s portrayal.


The controversy began when black students raised concerns about the exam school’s racial climate. Those complaints were, in themselves, totally legitimate. Like any other school, Boston Latin must provide a welcoming learning environment for students of all races. The school department launched an inquiry into the reports and found BLS erred in its response to one of the seven incidents.

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At that point, the mayorally appointed school committee should have either fired Teta, if officials believed the mistake pointed to a broader problem that really was her fault, or explicitly rejected the calls for her dismissal. By allowing her to twist in the wind instead, Walsh seemed to want to have it both ways: He avoided crossing the civil rights activists who became fixated on Teta, while at the same time keeping a widely respected educator in the job.

Nor did the city allow Teta to defend herself in public, meaning highly personal attacks against her went unanswered. Is it any wonder she got sick of it? “It is unfortunate that at a time when Boston Latin School has made tangible progress to combat racism in our community through constructive dialogue fostered by the student body, others outside the school continue to condemn us, denounce us, and hold us responsible for district policies and practices over which the school has no control,” Teta wrote in her resignation letter.

The BLS faculty is now demanding that the city give Teta and Assistant Headmaster Malcolm Flynn another chance, which the city could do by refusing to accept their resignations. But if the mayor is not willing to fully back the school’s administrators, and insists on focusing on systemic issues instead of scapegoating individuals, there would be no point. Either way, the school clearly has some rocky months ahead. And if Boston Latin falls into disarray and upheaval as a result, it’ll be a self-inflicted wound from City Hall.