Boston Latin Headmaster Resigns In Wake Of Racial Controversy

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The Boston Latin School (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
The Boston Latin School. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Boston Latin School headmaster Lynne Mooney Teta has resigned and will leave at the end of the school year, which is Friday.

"After considerable reflection, I have made the decision to step down," Teta wrote in a letter to the school community. "This has been a very difficult decision, but one which I believe is in the best interest of our students, faculty and our historic institution."

The news comes after months of racial tensions at the prestigious exam school, with black students and parents saying the administration did not respond adequately to complaints of racial harassment.

The district's Office of Equity investigated and found that school officials responded appropriately in some cases but not in others, including one in which a non-black male student threatened a black female student with a racial slur and a reference to lynching. Teta was suspended for two days in April as a result of that investigation.

U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz announced in March that she would investigate civil rights complaints at the school. Ortiz had no comment Tuesday.

BLS BLACK, or Black Leaders Aspiring for Change and Knowledge, the student group that voiced complaints in January about the school's racial climate, said in a Facebook post Tuesday that its members "are just as shocked as the general public to learn of the resignation of our headmaster."

The students' post emphasized "that her decision is completely independent of the mission of the #BlackAtBLS movement which is to increase racial inclusion and race explicit dialogue at Boston Latin School."

Noting in her letter that "we have faced challenges this year," Teta wrote that she was "greatly encouraged by the commitment of students, faculty, families and alumni to collaboratively address issues of racism and discrimination in our community."

Faculty members were surprised by the news, according to two teachers who attended a faculty meeting where Teta announced her resignation. The meeting was called by email early Tuesday and held at the end of the school day, they said, and left some teachers in tears.

Phillip Sossou, 18, graduated from Latin last week. He said Tuesday he didn't believe Teta had to resign.

"She did her job. At least I thought she did," Sossou said. "The BLS racial climate isn't nearly as bad as it was made out to be in the media."

But some activists said Teta's resignation was appropriate.

"I think while the headmaster is well meaning and competent in many ways, she handled this issue poorly," said Kevin Peterson, director of the New Democracy Coalition. "There was a lack of confidence among students and among parents in the leadership team here. So what I had been hearing was that drastic changes needed to be made."


City Councilor Andrea Campbell disagreed. She graduated from Boston Latin and worked with students there when the complaints surfaced earlier this year.

"I didn't have any parent, any student who came to me directly and asked for her resignation," Campbell said Tuesday. "So those who were calling for her resignation — I often wondered what parents and students they were talking to."

Campbell said she and other Latin alumni plan to meet Saturday to discuss how to help improve the racial climate at the school. But she said that's a concern that goes far beyond Boston Latin.

"I've always said that the issue and discussion about race and socioeconomic status, and the issues that came up this year at Latin, are bigger than Latin, and they're bigger than one person," Campbell said. "And I think that it is incumbent on the city to address these issues."

Similar racial issues "have come up in other schools in the district," Campbell said. "For me it's about looking at this in a bigger context. Otherwise we'll be back in this space again, not with Latin but with another school."

In a letter to the Boston School Committee, Superintendent Tommy Chang thanked Teta for her "tremendous dedication" and cited her "guidance" in developing "a comprehensive plan to create a more welcoming and inviting environment for all students" after "several students bravely shined a light on the issue of cultural proficiency at BLS."

"These efforts must continue," Chang wrote, "but I feel confident that the steps taken have firmly put BLS on a path of continued growth."

Mayor Marty Walsh issued a statement thanking Teta and wishing her luck.

"I will work with Superintendent Chang to identify the next BLS headmaster to carry on the school’s tradition of academic excellence, while creating a welcoming environment for all," Walsh's statement said.

Teta served as headmaster for nine years and said the school had "built the foundation to create a more welcoming and inclusive school environment."

"There is still more work to be done," she wrote. "However, I am confident that the school community is moving in the right direction, and will continue to advance the progress that has been made."

A community meeting at BLS had been planned for Tuesday night but was then canceled.

In a press conference Tuesday evening, Chang said a national search will be conducted to find the next BLS headmaster. An interim headmaster has not yet been named.

"We have not identified an interim headmaster for the school, but we will identify one very soon," Chang said. "Dr. Mooney Teta will be the headmaster until we find who that interim will be."

Chang said the next headmaster must be able to address the school's racial climate — but must also be ready to carry the Boston Latin legacy forward.

Peterson put it another way.

"The academics at this school are excellent," he said. "What needs to improve is building a community around race, inclusion and diversity."

With additional reporting from WBUR's Zeninjor Enwemeka.

This article was originally published on June 21, 2016.

This segment aired on June 22, 2016.


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Louise Kennedy Contributor
Louise Kennedy previously worked with The ARTery and as editor of Edify.



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