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After allegations of bullying and official neglect, Boston's Mission Hill School will close this summer

The Mission Hill K-8 School. (Screenshot via Google Maps)
The Mission Hill K-8 School. (Screenshot via Google Maps)

The Mission Hill K-8 School, a progressive pilot school within the Boston Public Schools, will close this summer.

The closure will mark the end of the school’s eccentric 24-year history — and of a twilight marked by misconduct revelations, interventions by Boston Public Schools administrators and community outcry.

A puzzling double image of the Mission Hill School emerged ahead of the school committee’s vote Thursday night.

The school was founded in 1997 as a purposefully small school, founded on principles of democratic governance, parent collaboration and restorative justice.

But this spring, district officials have argued those principles became distorted over time. They cited two lengthy reports that found a culture of pervasive and unreported student bullying and sexual misconduct at Mission Hill, as well as systemic failures to meet educational and reporting requirements.

The latest report, compiled by attorneys from the law firm Hinckley Allen, found a school “driven by fierce loyalty of parents and staff to an educational ideal” that “failed to deliver a safe and rigorous educational climate for its students.”

It details patterns of bullying, violence and sexual touching by a number of Mission Hill students that they say staff failed to stop or even report — as well as failures to deliver the appropriate public education to which students with disabilities are entitled.

BPS Superintendent Brenda Cassellius, whose tenure is set to end next month, said she recommended closing Mission Hill “swiftly” only after considering other options, including layoffs, installing an “intervention team” at the school or delaying the closure by a year.

“To do otherwise,” Cassellius said, “would be to turn away from the grim findings of … the reports to the detriment of students and families of Mission Hill.”

But most of the Mission Hill parents who spoke Thursday opposed the move. Even as they acknowledged failures, they said the reports Cassellius cited paint a warped or incomplete picture of a school they love.

Andy Crowe, who has three children at the school, said he was sad that any children felt unsafe there, but added that “when you break an arm, the doctor does not tell you to get it amputated.” Over 10 years as a Mission Hill parent, Crowe said, “my kids were in the hands of very caring and thoughtful teachers.”

Both Crowe’s wife and fellow parent Allison Cox said the final Hinckley Allen report did not reflect the favorable views they shared about the school over long interviews.

At least two parents did speak up in favor of the closure, though, including BPS employee Asha LeRay, who said her daughter has needed counseling to process the physical and emotional abuse she suffered at the hands of classmates there.

Meanwhile, the committee was persuaded. Brandon Cardet-Hernandez, who was appointed by Mayor Michelle Wu in January, offered “condolences” to upset families. But he also described the evidence as “terrifying.”

“It was not isolated, and it wasn’t a pattern — it was systemic,” Cardet-Hernandez said. "And the hard part about systemic issues is that, not everyone feels it.”

Cassellius promised that a second phase of the investigation will look at administrative failures to intervene earlier. She also said current Mission Hill students will be provided with counseling, and a chance to join the city’s school-choice process in a special, early round, starting on May 9.

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

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