Friday, June 24, 2016

Amid controversy, Boston Latin headmaster resigns

She showed insufficient hysteria about one or two instances of pupils making derogatory comments to black students.  As it is an academically  selective school it has few blacks compared to the community and that has always rankled some. So great hysteria was required

The headmaster of Boston Latin School, who had been fending off calls for her termination for months amid a federal probe into racially charged incidents at the school, announced Tuesday she is resigning after nine years leading the city’s top exam school.

Lynne Mooney Teta did not mention the federal investigation in a letter to the school community Tuesday afternoon, but she did refer to the controversy surrounding the racial incidents that rocked the school earlier this year.

Teta said the decision was difficult but “one which I believe is in the best interest of our students, faculty, and our historic institution.” Her resignation is effective at the end of the school year.

“I believe that it is time for a new headmaster to lead the school and carry on the tradition of excellence,’’ said Teta, who is also a BLS graduate.

“We have faced challenges this year, and I have been greatly encouraged by the commitment of students, faculty, families, and alumni to work together to collaboratively address issues of racism and discrimination in our community,” Teta wrote.

Superintendent Tommy Chang, who praised Teta’s leadership, called her resignation “a personal decision.” Teta could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

For months, Teta had been resisting calls for her termination from the NAACP and other organizations, who faulted her handling of racial incidents at the school. Those incidents came to light on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in January when two students posted a YouTube video criticizing Teta and other administrators for ignoring or taking too lightly complaints of racism, such as when students use racial slurs.

A School Department investigation in February found that BLS administration properly handled six race-based incidents at the school, but faulted the administrative team for not adequately addressing a seventh incident in which a non-black student threatened a black student.

The findings did little to appease Teta’s detractors, who argued that the review did not go far enough. They subsequently filed a complaint with US Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz’s office, which launched an investigation in March. The investigation remains open, and the resignation would have no impact on the probe, Ortiz’s office said Tuesday.

Throughout it all, Teta refused to step down. In February, she said she would not resign, two days after issuing a letter apologizing for her slow response to racial incidents at the school, saying “No one is more committed than I am to improving the racial climate and culture here at Boston Latin School.”

The resignation comes as classes end on Friday for the school year at Boston Latin School. It seemed to have taken Chang by surprise. He abruptly canceled a previously scheduled meeting with BLS parents Tuesday night.

Instead, Chang held a press conference at School Department headquarters in Roxbury during which he said Teta told him of her decision that morning. He said he has not yet identified a temporary replacement to run the school until a permanent leader is hired.

“This was a personal decision for her, and I know it was not easy for her,” he said. “We had conversations, but I’m going to keep those personal. I have always supported her and her leadership to build a more inclusive environment at the school.’’

Chang said he would launch a national search for a new leader, a process that could take months.

‘She was treated incredibly unfairly throughout this process. She is always working to make BLS a welcoming and inclusive place for all.’

“I will work with Superintendent Chang to identify the next BLS headmaster to carry on the school’s tradition of academic excellence, while creating a welcoming environment for all,” Walsh said in a statement.

The investigation by the Department of Justice — and a separate ongoing inquiry by the city’s Office of Equity — were beginning to wear on Teta, said a person with knowledge of the investigation.

“She didn’t want the school to [continue to be] in the media negatively,’’ said the person, who also said Teta had grown concerned about the effect of the inquiries on staff and administrators. “The pressure and everything accumulating took a toll on her.”

Teta’s detractors said her resignation creates an opportunity to address the racial climate at the school under new leadership.

“Boston Public Schools now has an opportunity to embed leadership that values diversity and inclusion, rejects racial bigotry, and is responsive to every student, parent, teacher, and alum,” Michael Curry, president of the Boston branch of the NAACP, said in a statement. “Now is the time to finally address the diversity of the faculty and the student body.”

Curry said community leaders want to work with the school district “to ensure that academic rigor is maintained, and the selection of the new headmaster is responsive to community voice.”

Lori Britton, whose daughter is a BLS sophomore, said she was relieved by Teta’s announcement. “What’s been obvious to me for the last many months is that there has been a need for change at the school,” Britton said. “Lynn Mooney Teta made the right decision. She’s doing what’s best for the institution and more importantly the students.”

Britton’s daughter, a rising junior at BLS, was at the center of the incident that the School Department investigation faulted BLS for mishandling. Last year, a boy in her class threatened to lynch the girl while holding an electric cord and called her a crude racial epithet. No one at the school had informed Britton or her husband of what happened to their daughter.

Britton said she would like the next Boston Latin headmaster to be someone who is “dedicated to the healthy, social, emotional development of children in all aspects and responsive to all students.”

The two students who initially raised concerns about racism — Kylie Webster-Cazeau and Meggie Noel — did not respond to requests for interviews. But the organization they lead, BLS Black, issued a statement saying it was “just as shocked as the general public to learn of the resignation.”

“We want to emphasize that her decision is completely independent of the mission of the #BlackAtBLS movement, which is to increase racial inclusion and race-explicit dialogue at Boston Latin School,” the statement said. “Change and reconciliation are on the horizon and we will continue to hold our school, now our alma mater, accountable to live up to our motto, Sumus Primi.”

Sumus Primi is Latin for “we are the first,” which is in recognition that Latin School was the first public school in the nation. Teta signed her letter with the motto, too.

Teta’s supporters said they are disappointed that she resigned.

Peter G. Kelly, president of Boston Latin School Association, said alumni “owe an enormous debt of gratitude to her for her exceptional service and partnership.”

“Lynne Mooney Teta has dedicated herself personally and professionally to the advancement of Boston’s youth for more than a decade,” Kelly said in a statement. “She is a compassionate, dedicated, pedagogically talented school leader whose resignation is a profound loss not only for the Boston Latin School community, but also for the broader Boston Public School district.”

City Councilor Matt O’Malley called Teta’s resignation “devastating.”

“She was treated incredibly unfairly throughout this process,” he said in an interview. “She is always working to make BLS a welcoming and inclusive place for all.”


Why the UCU can’t oppose Prevent

The University College Union (UCU), the UK’s further- and higher-education lecturers’ union, passed a motion last week opposing the UK government’s Prevent strategy, which restricts who can speak on campus and demands lecturers monitor their students for signs of ‘radicalisation’.

There is no doubt that Prevent is an insidious incursion into the intellectual life of a university, and an attack on freedom of speech. It draws a direct line between word and deed – if you hear, read or say something deemed dangerously radical you are deemed prone to act on those views. Therefore, under the censorious logic of Prevent, the offending words should not be said or heard.

However, the UCU and its ally against Prevent, the National Union of Students (NUS), oppose Prevent while working to undermine civil liberties by other means. Indeed, the UCU motion actually pledges support for groups that have been calling for censorship on campus and encouraging a ‘you can’t say that’ culture. The statement includes a strong statement of support for ‘decolonise education’ activists, who have campaigned against the Rhodes statue at Oxford and are calling for a less ‘white’ curriculum. Decolonisation activists also support Safe Spaces and the No Platforming of speakers deemed to be offensive or dangerous. Far from resisting the state, decolonisation activists resist debate.

What the UCU, the NUS and the government share is a belief that academic and political debate needs to be tightly controlled. In the end, Prevent complements Safe Spaces and No Platforming. The UCU’s opposition to Prevent is not really borne of a principled defence of civil liberties. Prevent would be better opposed by a consistent defence of liberty and, in particular, a defence of freedom of speech on campus.

The UCU motion even calls for a ‘campaign against Islamophobia, with a particular focus on education, and Islamophobia-awareness training for all staff’. So here a motion ostensibly defending free speech simultaneously undermines free thought. Racism is reprehensible, and lecturers should confront it if they see it. But treating staff as unwitting Islamophobes is not only patronising in the extreme, it is also likely to close down, rather than open up, debate.

That’s not all. The motion also calls for UCU branches to ‘request that each senior management team in post-16 educational institutions commit to the protection of education as a non-discriminatory space’. This amounts to a call for Safe Spaces – and this is bad news for free speech on campus. What might constitute discriminatory speech for one person could be fair comment for another. In recent years, we have seen numerous speakers, from pro-lifers to pro-Palestinian activists, accused of discrimination, with subsequent (often successful) attempts to No Platform them. The UCU’s demand for a ‘non-discriminatory’ space will exacerbate this culture of offence-taking, restrict free speech and deepen students’ feelings of vulnerability.

If campaigners accept the idea that young people are vulnerable to ideas they find offensive and are in need of Safe Spaces, they are half way to accepting Prevent.


Gender-neutral uniforms: dressing up an adult crisis

When I was 11, my school sent me home with a letter about my socks – and I’ve kept it ever since. I had to wear special socks to tackle a skin condition on my feet, but they only came in white, and the school stipulated they must be red. So my mother went to the lengths of dying them exactly the right colour. The terse letter we received in response sniffily suggested that this would only be tolerated for a couple of weeks, after which I would be in breach of the rules.

I used to keep the letter as a monument to bureaucratic pomposity, but now I treasure it for another reason. It serves as a reminder that uniform should do what it says: make everything exactly the same. It deliberately reduces everyone, rich or poor, to the same level of outward appearance. It is an enforced equality. It means that high or low status expressed through clothing, brands and so on doesn’t play a role in an environment in which what counts is learning and achievement.

School dress also performs another function. It introduces children to taking pride in their appearance, but in a non-showy way. They gradually appreciate that if you dress smartly, you act in a more civil manner. The principle often gets overplayed in schools, but it is a sound one.

For these reasons school uniform is an embodiment of teacher authority in action. I visited Rugby School recently, and was struck by the most visible signifier of the ethos of the place: the extraordinarily long, black skirts, reminiscent of a Hermione Granger costume, which the girls are forced to wear. A fellow teacher, also visiting, remarked on the positive potential of such anachronistic dress, because of the constant and tiresome battle she has with the girls at her own school over their habit of rolling their skirts up too high.

From the far distant days when I was a schoolboy to now, tussles over uniform haven’t gone away. But today there is a key difference. It’s those in authority who have a problem with uniform. Hence we now learn that 80 state schools, 40 of them primaries, have introduced gender-neutral uniform policies, which permit both boys and girls to choose whether they want to wear trousers or skirts.

State comprehensives have permitted girls to wear trousers without controversy for a long time, on the basis that it is an everyday part of the outside world. The contentious part of this new development is that boys can turn up at the school gate in a skirt if they choose to. According to the Guardian, ‘the move is part of a government-funded drive to support LGBT+ children in schools and be more open to children questioning their gender or sexual identity’.

Are there really that many boys who are confused about their masculinity, especially at primary level, to justify this move? In my years of teaching, I have known only a tiny handful of students who questioned their gender. This feels more like an issue being thrust on children from above rather than one coming from the pupils themselves.

It is also asking for trouble. It is an open invitation for disruptive pupils to take advantage of an opportunity to mock the system. For those who are sincere, they are more likely to find their hopes of acceptance being dashed by teasing and, possibly, bullying from their less-enlightened peers.

Even though this issue looks like a laudable attempt at respecting children’s identity, in reality it is not in children’s interests at all. School kids need guidance, instruction, education; adults need to step up to the plate and inspire and guide them. We can’t do that anymore because adult authority feels weak, and this is most pronounced in schools. Uniforms are only a symbol of that authority, and a school that won’t dare say to a boy ‘you’re a boy’, or even dictate what he should wear, is hardly going to be able to say, ‘Shakespeare is great’.

Gender-neutral uniforms should be seen for what they are. This is an attempt to strip teachers of their authority, no matter how you dress it up.


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