Civil Rights Groups and Clergy Respond to Developments at Boston Latin School

CIVIL RIGHTS GROUPS AND CLERGY RESPOND TO RECENT DEVELOPMENTS AT BOSTON LATIN SCHOOL 

On June 29, 2016, 4:30 p.m. at the Boston Public Schools headquarters, members of several civil rights and social justice organizations, including the Boston NAACP, the ACLU of Massachusetts, Black Educators’ Alliance of Massachusetts (BEAM), Massachusetts Advocates for Children, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice, Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts, Ella J. Baker House, Azusa Christian Community Church and Rev. Miniard Culpepper of Pleasant Hill Baptist Church will stand with parents, students and other members of the Boston Latin and Boston Public Schools communities to address the recent public dialogue on race at Boston Latin School (BLS).

The district has appointed an interim leadership team at BLS that draws deeply on the school’s history. Nonetheless, there is a continued push from some in the school’s community to dismiss the harm done to Black and Latino children at BLS by the school’s failure to address the harassment they experienced. It is time for our city, our flagship public school, and our district to move forward in the best interest of all its students. To ensure we do not repeat the mistakes of the past, we parents, clergy, and organizations gather to (1) make clear the harm of racial harassment and the ways our schools must respond to it, legally and morally; (2) challenge the misguided fear that treating all students safely and justly will lead to a “lowering of academic standards and rigor,” and (3) discuss our expectations for a more inclusive Boston Public Schools.

“A united front in the black community, led by our students, has opened the door to rectify the racial climate at Boston Latin School,” said Jacqueline C. Rivers of the Ella J. Baker House. “Now the Mayor must include black educators, clergy and activists in the process to bring fresh leadership to the school.”

“We don’t want people to lose sight of the main objective here, which is supporting the students at Boston Latin School,” said Kim Janey of Mass Advocates for Children. “They deserve better, and we have to now turn our attention to making the school more inclusive and responsive to their needs, while also focusing on the search for an exceptional headmaster to lead the school.”

“BEAM continues to support the students at BLS and it is critical that there is a fair, inclusive and open process to secure a permanent headmaster who is culturally competent, and equipped to address the staffing diversity and racial climate of BLS,” shared Johnny McInnis, President of the Black Educators Alliance of Massachusetts.

“Some have turned from dismissing students’ concerns to stoking fears of lower standards at BLS – an unfortunate distraction,” said Attorney Matt Cregor of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice. “Boston’s future is brightest when top students from all neighborhoods learn with and from each other.”

“It is critical that the public have a clear picture of what transpired over the past few years at BLS, including the threatening of a young Black girl with lynching, which was not communicated to the parents, the police and the District in a timely manner,” said Rahsaan Hall, director of the Racial Justice Program of the ACLU of Massachusetts. “Collectively, we have spoken with many other families whose stories are compelling and epitomize the failed leadership at the nation’s oldest public school. Today, we will share their stories.”

“Our community realizes that this moment for the City of Boston is very important and we must remain focused on the process, outcomes and the end products,” said Darnell Williams, President and CEO of the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts. “We must shift our thoughts and actions as to what comes next for the education of all children. If we make sure that they have an opportunity to access a quality education, then our collective work is not in vain.”

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In January 2016, a group of civil rights activists, an elected official, attorneys and clergy came together in support of students at BLS. On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, student leaders Meggie Noel and Kylie Webster-Cazeau posted a video on YouTube with the hashtag BlackatBLS. In the video the pair spoke to ongoing racial harassment and isolation being experienced by some students at BLS. The issues stemmed from a 2014 complaint made by students to the BLS administration involving social media tweets. The students questioned why the BLS administration had not followed through on its commitment to remedy the issues and questioned the BLS administration’s lack of responsiveness to the race related issues more broadly.

Almost a year before the students’ YouTube post, in February 2015, the Boston NAACP and City Councilor Tito Jackson contacted the district’s superintendent regarding the concerns raised by students at BLS, specifically the 2014 social media tweets, and asked that the district refer the issue to its Office of Equity to investigate. The school district chose to defer to the BLS administration to investigate and address the concerns. Following the January 2016 YouTube post, activists again asked the central office to get involved. This time a formal review was conducted of the allegations that the BLS administration did not properly handle student complaints; however, the review was shallow at best. After nearly a year of trying to work with the school district and the City of Boston to properly review and investigate allegations of racial harassment, a racially hostile learning environment, and racially disparate discipline, these groups filed a complaint with the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

The Boston Herald and Boston Globe featured this advocacy work on behalf of students in Boston.