Feds find rights violation at nation’s oldest public school

Officials at the nation’s first and oldest public school didn’t sufficiently investigate racially charged incidents and failed to address racial hostility, a federal civil rights probe concluded on Monday.

U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz said the failure of Boston Latin School administrators to adequately respond to a 2014 incident in which a male student was accused of using a racial slur and threatening to “lynch” a black female classmate while holding an electric cord amounted to a violation of Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. She didn’t disclose the race of the male student.

The school’s response to other allegations of racial hostility didn’t rise to the level of civil rights violations but demonstrated that officials “paid insufficient attention to issues of race, the concerns of students of color, and the school’s racial climate in recent years,” Ortiz’s office concluded.

Boston public schools Superintendent Tommy Chang said the district has entered an agreement with Ortiz’s office to ensure racial discrimination complaints are handled better at Boston Latin, a prestigious exam school founded in 1635. The school has about 2,500 students, more than half racial minorities, primarily Asians.

Among the initiatives are mandatory racial harassment training for students and staff, establishment of a school official to monitor harassment and discrimination complaints and an annual school-wide racial climate survey.

The NAACP, the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups said the investigation is a reminder to other Massachusetts school districts that it’s their federal duty to address racial harassment.

“It is not often that Title IV is violated so far from the South,” the groups said following the report’s release. “That the Department of Justice brought it to bear here validates the concerns first raised by students and families at Latin.”

Ortiz’s office launched its probe in March after the civil rights groups alleged administrators at Boston Latin had for years failed to address a racially hostile learning environment and inadequately responded to student concerns about racially disparate student discipline and other issues.

The complaint from civil rights activists came after student group BLS Black posted a YouTube video in January complaining about racial hostility. Following months of controversy, Headmaster Lynne Mooney Teta resigned this summer.

Statement from Boston Public Schools Superintendent Tommy Chang:

“The Boston Public Schools 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.”

Statement from former Boston Latin School Headmaster Dr. Lynne Mooney Teta:

I am deeply disappointed in the findings of the United States Attorney’s Office and its conclusion that a civil rights violation occurred at Boston Latin School. The picture painted in the U.S. Attorney’s report could not be further from the reality of life at the school I know and love.

In my nine years as head master, my colleagues and I followed the longstanding commitment of BLS to provide a safe and respectful learning environment for our 2,400 students and to educate them in ways that prepare them to take on the challenging issues of our society. The diversity of our school community is a true strength and we never shied away from conversations about race, culture, power and respect; indeed, we integrated important issues of social justice into classes across disciplines. These opportunities were not one-off programs, created to check a box, but rather were experiences integrated into the fabric of our curriculum and instruction.

It is my belief that our efforts here have been unfairly judged, by various adults with various agendas, for reasons that go well beyond the walls of BLS. It is clear that constructive dialogue fostered by the student body and our genuine efforts to promote an equitable learning environment were purposely ignored.

I remain confident that Boston Latin School will continue its four centuries old commitment to developing the next generation of leaders and provide an exemplary contemporary classical education to students, so that they are prepared for successful college studies, responsible and engaged citizenship and a rewarding life.

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