Boston Latin parents protest tone of race seminar

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BOSTON A trio of angry Boston Latin School parents claim that race-related workshops last month featured overtly “anti-white, anti-police sentiment,” in a complaint to city school administrators, according to sources familiar with the confidential document.

The May 20 seminars were described by the school as “teach-ins” that would be “focused on the issue of race and sponsored by the club B.L.A.C.K. (Black Leaders Aspiring for Change and Knowledge),” in an internal memo.

The student club made headlines over the past year after two founders, seniors Meggie Noel and Kylie Webster-Cazeau, released videos slamming the elite exam school’s administrators over a perceived indifference to racial tensions they claimed were roiling the campus. The group’s accusations eventually caught the eye of the New York Times and led to calls from civil rights groups such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts. The advocates joined activists in calling for a Justice Department investigation, which Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz obliged, initiating a probe in early March.

According to sources inside Boston Latin, teachers had the option of whether to bring their classes to the race-related workshops. Students weren’t allowed to opt out of class participation, if elected by their teachers, however.

Parents weren’t provided with the agenda, which was only emailed to teachers the day before the sessions began. The program was developed and finalized outside of Boston Latin by Al Holland, a special consultant to Boston schools Superintendent Tommy Chang, records show. Boston Latin is the nation’s oldest public school.

The parents complained to the city school district’s Office of Equity. When asked to confirm the complaint, Daniel O’Brien, a school district spokesman, provided the following statement:

“Boston Public Schools (BPS) is committed to encouraging student leadership and fostering a safe, welcoming, and culturally proficient learning and working environment. In recent months, several workshops and facilitated discussions about race and cultural proficiency have taken place at Boston Latin School (BLS) and made a positive impact on the school community. However, three parents recently expressed concerns about the content of one student-led workshop, which was held at BLS on May 20. The BPS Office of Equity is currently reviewing those concerns.”

The May 20 workshop was to begin with an hour-long seminar that would “openly address the ‘elephant in our school’” and feature a symposium hosted by Noel and Webster-Cazeau regarding “the YouTube video that started a media firestorm and garnered national attention,” according to the meeting agenda.

Additional 45-minute sessions were titled “The Quest for Equity in Public Education,” “Stand Against Racism” and “Got Privilege?” the last of which was described as a session “defining ‘race’ and the role it plays in defining the standards by which we live.’”

“From there, we will explore a different meaning of ‘privilege’ as a racial advantage rather than an economic one,” the agenda noted. “Several attendees will have a chance to participate in a ‘privilege walk’ followed by a debriefing session with the audience.”

Another 45-minute session was led by leaders of the Boston chapter of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. The agenda described that meeting as featuring “members of B.L.A.C.K. reciting numbers, which represent different statistics… these are statistics of blacks in America who have lost their lives to police violence and brutality.”

“It will also feature statistics of the large number of Blacks who have been incarcerated following this will be a presentation of the origin of #BlackLivesMatter and its significance.”

Days after the May 20 sessions, members of B.L.A.C.K took to YouTube once again, this time releasing a video in which they alleged that the racial climate at the school hadn’t improved and accused administrators of failing to take steps to address racial concerns.

The group specifically called out Headmaster Lynne Mooney Teta and claimed that administrators never mentioned their organization during school assemblies addressing the subject. During the school week that followed, Boston Latin hosted three additional days of race-related workshops.

Students in the video also vowed that administrators would be “held accountable” even after B.L.A.C.K.’s two senior leaders, Noel and Webster-Cazeau, graduated.

“This movement has not died down and it will continue to push forward even after we leave,” one of the students said during the video.

Read a copy of the May 20 agenda:

BLS Agenda May20