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Ex-BPS staff allege pattern of race bias

Ex-staff of color urge superintendent to investigate policies on personnel

Alain Jehlen
Ex-BPS staff allege pattern of race bias

Fifteen retired high-ranking Boston Public Schools leaders of color are demanding that Superintendent Mary Skipper put an end to what they see as a pattern of targeting Black and brown central office leaders.

In a letter to the superintendent, they say “investigative meetings” and administrative leave have been “weaponized” as a way to get rid of Black and brown officials who are seen as troublemakers.

Asked about the letter this week, BPS Chief of Communications Gabrielle Farrell said an outside lawyer is “reviewing the concerns.”

In interviews, signers say central office officials have been unfairly humiliated and harassed over minor protocol violations.

“These cases seem to be orchestrated and intentional, primarily to deliver a message … that you will be discredited and destroyed if you speak out against racist and ineffective policies and practices,” the letter says.

The abrupt departure of Aketa Narang Kapur, who led the BPS Office of English Learners for just two months last year, was reported in the Boston Globe. In an interview, a former BPS administrator listed five other recent cases.

The letter was sent on Aug. 24. At the time, Skipper had been hired as superintendent but had not yet formally started in the job.

Skipper responded to the letter two days later, saying she and Interim Superintendent Drew Echelson would look into the matter immediately.

“We are fully committed to resolving and ending any and all practices that target or show bias toward any staff,” she said. “I will be back in touch with you to let you know the steps we will be taking.”

When Schoolyard News asked about the letter this week, Farrell said attorney Natashia Tidwell of the law firm Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr is “reviewing the concerns that were raised.” A BPS spokesperson added that “outside counsel was notified and a review was requested in late August.”

But signers of the letter said yesterday they were not told an outside lawyer had been engaged to look into the situation.

Farrell said, “Following this review, BPS will address any findings, and take all appropriate steps to continue to ensure BPS is a discrimination-free workplace. We will also follow up with Mr. [Alfred] Holland in the spirit of always wanting to improve and strengthen our practices as a District.”

Holland was the lead signer of the letter.

Farrell said the administration can’t comment on individual cases, but “Superintendent Mary Skipper does not tolerate discrimination of any kind at Boston Public Schools.”

The BPS spokesperson suggested the letter writers are wrong to see “investigatory meetings” as hostile or intimidating. “Investigatory meetings are not disciplinary in nature,” the spokesperson said. “An investigatory meeting is an employee’s opportunity to have their account heard when students, families or coworkers have made allegations of misconduct involving them.”

The spokesperson said it is to protect employees’ rights, that employees are told these meetings may result in discipline, and that they have a right to representation. She also said BPS has three people who conduct internal investigations and one who oversees risk management, and three of the four are people of color.

Tidwell, according to her law firm’s website, focuses on higher education, K-12 schools, and white-collar and government enforcement, and “leads internal investigations for colleges, universities and independent secondary schools in matters involving racial discrimination… .”

Letter writers were leading BPS educators

Holland is a former headmaster of the Jeremiah Burke High School and the Edward M. Kennedy Academy for Health Careers and later worked as a BPS high school superintendent. He was called out of retirement to deal with a crisis at Madison Park Vocational High School, and then again at Boston Latin School when racial tensions boiled over in 2016.

The other letter signers include many other accomplished school leaders and central office administrators.

This article originally appeared in Boston Parents Schoolyard News.