Federal Investigation Finds Boston Latin School Failed To Take Racial Hostility Seriously

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

A federal investigation into alleged civil rights violations at Boston Latin School has found a pattern of race-based harassment and discrimination at the elite exam school.

The investigation, launched last March by the U.S. attorneys office in Boston, found that BLS administrators "generally treated reports of racial harassment and insensitivity with insufficient seriousness and paid inadequate attention to the school's overall racial climate."

It also found that the school's handling of a November 2014 incident was in direct violation of the Civil Rights Act. In that incident, a non-black male student threatened a black female student with a racial slur and a reference to a lynching.

"The fact that they have determined that one of the incidents was in fact a violation of civil rights is confirmation of pretty much what we always knew," said Lori Smith Britton, the mother of the female student involved in that incident.

The report says what happened shows a troubling failure by BLS to comply with its obligations to take prompt and effective action to stop racial harassment.

The investigation also confirmed reports of discrimination, including a complaint that black students faced tougher discipline and more suspensions than non-black students for similar offenses.

Smith Britton, who's daughter still attends BLS, says the findings and the work happening at the school is a step in the right direction.

"I think the new administration that's in place is really taking this seriously," said Smith Britton, who is also an alum of the school. "They seem to be taking seriously bringing a culture and climate of respect."

BLS headmaster Lynne Mooney Teta resigned in June following months of concerns about the racial climate at the school. Michael Contompasis, who served as headmaster at the school 22 years, is currently serving as interim headmaster while the city looks for a new leader.

The report by the U.S. attorney's office put forward a set of reforms for BLS, which Boston Public Schools has already agreed to implement. The reforms include mandatory annual trainings for students, faculty and staff; conducting an annual survey on the school's racial climate; the establishment of a system of restorative justice; and hiring a non-discrimination officer who would be responsible for monitoring harassment complaints.

BPS Superintendent Tommy Chang said in a statement Monday that the district is committed to ensuring that BLS fosters an inclusive environment.

"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 statement said.

The U.S. attorney's office in Boston launched its investigation back in March after receiving a written complaint from several civil rights groups and school community members.

Issues at the school were brought to the forefront in January when two BLS seniors launched a social media campaign to bring attention to what they said was an increasingly hostile racial atmosphere at the school.

In August, Boston Public Schools' own investigation found that teachers and administrators violated policies for handling discrimination and harassment claims several times over the course of four years.

It was also revealed Monday that the school's state ranking had been downgraded from Level 1 to Level 2, after 13 students opted out of annual standardized testing -- putting BLS below the state threshold for participation in statewide assessments.

With reporting by Edify's Tonya Mosley

This article was originally published on September 26, 2016.



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