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After Text Messages Leak, Another Leaves Boston's School Committee

The sign for the Boston Public Schools headquarters in Nubian Square. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
The sign for the Boston Public Schools headquarters in Nubian Square. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Sociologist Lorna Rivera resigned from Boston’s school committee on Friday, after critical text messages she exchanged with another committee member were made public.

According to reporting in the Boston Globe, Rivera and fellow committee member Alexandra Oliver-Dávila privately criticized white parents from West Roxbury in text messages during the lengthy public debate over exam school admissions last fall.

The texts — somehow leaked after being withheld from the Globe's initial public-records request — were sent during the nine-hour meeting last October where the committee voted to suspend the test requirement at Boston’s three selective “exam schools” for one year.

While many commenters applauded the proposal — which instead weighed applicants’ grades and home ZIP codes — dozens of largely white and Asian parents pushed back, saying it hurt their children’s chances of admission and undermined the exam schools’ reputation for academic excellence.

During the same meeting where former committee chair Michael Loconto was caught mocking Asian commenters’ names, Rivera and Oliver-Dávila — both Latina — were reportedly sending messages back and forth, faulting “Westie whites” for being “delusional.” (Neither Rivera nor Oliver-Dávila — now the committee’s chair — responded to multiple requests for comment.)

Some advocates said Monday that they will miss Rivera’s independent streak, and that her departure highlights the need for a more accountable, democratic school committee in the city.

Ruby Reyes, the executive director of the advocacy group Boston Education Justice Alliance, said Rivera represents a “huge loss” for the committee, which is appointed by the mayor and tends toward unanimity bordering on a rubber stamp.

“She was like the one lonely ranger, who was speaking about important [problems] — but actually voting against them,” Reyes said. Even in the text messages, Reyes argued, Rivera was speaking to real, “racist political structures” in some of Boston’s neighborhoods.

Rivera was one of two members to vote against the decision to give green space outside the McCormack School in Dorchester to the Boys & Girls Club of Boston last August. Last month, she was the only member to vote against adopting the state-recommended MassCORE program for high school coursework, arguing the change was too abrupt for a district rocked by the pandemic.

Rivera, a BPS parent, told Globe columnist Marcela García that she faced harassment from the public — and at least one “credible threat” — during her final months on the committee.

In a statement, BPS superintendent Brenda Cassellius thanked Rivera for her service and respected her decision to resign “given the personal challenges and hardships she has shared.”

Cassellius added that the texts between Rivera and Oliver-Dávila were “disappointing and hurtful to the Boston Public Schools community, and to our larger efforts to combat racism in all forms.”

City councilor and mayoral candidate Annissa Essaibi-George said she  was "disappointed" by the exchange. And state Rep. Ed Coppinger, who represents West Roxbury, also called on Oliver-Dávila to resign, saying, “our school department should not be led by individuals who denigrate any part of the rich diversity in our city and our neighborhoods.”

Before Rivera, Miren Uriarte and Regina Robinson formed a reliable dissenting bloc on the committee. But then Robinson was not reappointed by Mayor Marty Walsh after her terms lapsed, and Uriarte stepped down in the middle of her term.

For Reyes, there's a pattern: independent-minded members either lose their seats on the committee or are isolated when they remain. And she argues that Boston's next mayor should return to a fully elected school committee: “There’s a desperate need for more democracy in these systems.”

Otherwise, she said, "we’re just gonna keep seeing really good folks, like Dr. Lorna, who were voting against policies that hurt majority-Black/Latino communities … being targeted with tactics like pulling text messages."

Reached for comment Monday evening, the mayor's office could not confirm whether Rivera's resignation had been accepted, or when her successor might be named.

Related:

Max Larkin Twitter Reporter, Edify
Max Larkin is a multimedia reporter for Edify, WBUR's education vertical.

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