Boston Latin Accused of Violating Civil Rights

(Photo: Wikimedia, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Wikimedia, Creative Commons)

Shortly after the school day ended at the prestigious and historic Boston Latin School on Monday, US Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz reported that a comprehensive civil rights investigation at the school had found an environment of racial discrimination and bullying that was not correctly addressed by staff. At least one violation of the federal Civil Rights Act was determined to have occurred.

The exploration revealed reports of discrimination made by students publicly in January. One incident involved a black female student who was addressed with a racial slur by a male pupil who also “threatened to lynch her with an electrical cord,” write Milton J. Valencia, Jan Ransom, and Meghan E. Irons for The Boston Globe.

Ortiz discovered that the manner in which the school handled the incident was in direct violation of the Civil Rights Act, which explicitly prohibits harassment and discrimination at public schools.

A letter mailed to Superintendent Tommy Chang noted the review and criticized the school for mismanaging a minimum of two additional complaints of racial occurrences. It ordered school leaders to improve the monitoring of the school climate. Officials say that some of the actions are already underway.

Lori Britton, the mother of the student who experienced the lynching threat and a graduate of Boston Latin, said:

“We’re relieved the investigation has come to an end and will ensure that Boston Latin becomes a healthier, stronger school and comfortable and safe for all students.”

Another incident was centered on a series of racially insulting tweets by students in Nov. 2014, after the Ferguson riots. Students copied the tweets and took them to school administrators, but received no feedback from the administration.

These events raised concerns that the school was not consistent in applying policies and procedures related to student behaviors, says WCVB-TV. The US Attorney’s office and Boston Public Schools reached a resolution which stated that BPS would develop a comprehensive strategy to approach and stop racial harassment at Boston Latin School.

“The Boston Public Schools (BPS) is committed to ensuring that Boston Latin School — along with all of our schools — fosters a safe, welcoming and inclusive environment for each and every student,” Chang said in a statement. “We and the leadership of Boston Latin School are fully committed to implementing the recommendations in the voluntary resolution agreement reached with the United States Attorney’s Office to ensure all reports of racial bias are fully, promptly and effectively addressed at Boston Latin and every Boston public school.”

The investigation also found that at Boston Latin School, black students were disciplined in a tougher manner and faced more suspensions than non-black students for offenses that were similar, according to WBUR Public Radio.

Headmaster Lynne Mooney Teta resigned in June following the months of accusations concerning the racial climate of BLS. Michael Contompasis, who was the school’s headmaster for 22 years, is serving as interim headmaster while the search is on for a new leader.

In March, the US attorney’s office in Boston began the investigation because of a written complaint from several civil rights groups and members of the school community.

Adding insult to injury, BLS, considered to be the country’s oldest public school, was downgraded from Level 1 to Level 2 because 13 pupils opted out of the yearly standardized testing, which put BLS below the Massachusetts threshold for statewide assessments participation.