Backlash after Beverly residents question the qualifications of the city’s only black school board member

During a public comment section at a regular school committee meeting on September 8, Donna Loiacano took the microphone and raised concerns about her two children wearing masks, according to a recording. video of the meeting.

After raising the subject of mask-wearing, Loiacano abruptly pivoted to question McKenzie’s qualifications to serve on the committee.

“How did she get on the board?” Loiacano said, pointing to McKenzie. “She was not elected. She was not on the school board ballot. Is it because André Morgan is there? And maybe the person who quit?

Morgan is the Director of Opportunity, Access, and Equity for Beverly Public Schools.

McKenzie said she was “confused” by Loiacano’s sudden redirection, and chose to just listen.

“I thought we’re clearly not immune to what I saw happening in other jurisdictions,” McKenzie said. “I felt really shaken. I felt like I was wondering what to do in terms of just waiting. I didn’t feel safe at one point, but I felt like I didn’t want to move and I wanted let things calm down on their own. I had to trust my colleagues to get it under control.

For several minutes in back-and-forth exchanges with committee members, Loiacano continued to suggest that McKenzie’s position on the body was illegitimate because she was not elected by public vote.

“Officially, it has to be voted on by the public,” Loiacano said. “Not by the school committee, not by any doctor,” she said, an apparent reference to Morgan, who has a doctorate from Harvard and the American university.

Stephen Moloney, who chimed in as Loiacano spoke to echo his line of questioning, then took the microphone and said he was the parent of a child in the school system. Moloney also asked what McKenzie’s qualifications were for the position and whether she would be on the ballot in the next election.

It was then that the mayor of Beverly, Michael Cahill, interjected.

“Neither you nor Ms. Loiacano really show any respect for Dr. McKenzie as a human being and as a member of our school committee,” Cahill said. “I just want you to stop, Steve. Please.”

Loiacano and Moloney each invoked “critical race theory,” an academic concept that argues that racism is systemic in American life, and which Republicans seized on as a political rallying cry over the summer. Conservative anger over it has sparked similar scenes at school committee meetings across the country, with some parents demanding an end to such education, despite the concept being widely studied in higher education institutions.

In a text message Tuesday night, Loiacano said she had privately apologized to McKenzie.

“Although I don’t want to continue talking about it, because I think it would keep so much hate alive, perhaps for many,” the message read. “I have offered a private apology to Dr McKenzie, which she has kindly accepted. I wish her the best in her new position. For now, I would really like to put this behind us, both Dr McKenzie and myself, and move on with my life.

Moloney did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Moloney’s comments, focusing on McKenzie’s credentials without elevating anyone else’s, led the group to believe the meeting was not going to be productive, McKenzie said.

She said at the time that she was thinking of historical figures and groups of people who experienced racism and other forms of discrimination in the positions they held, which made her feel less only.

“I thought, this is what other people have been through that’s been in these situations, and it must be pretty awful to be on the front lines of some of this work and have people do it to you. regularly,” McKenzie said. “So I really felt a sense of connection and compassion for people who do this job all the time with a lot of resentment and aggression toward them.”

McKenzie is also director of the Aspire Institute at Boston University’s Wheelock College of Education and Human Development and an adjunct assistant professor at the university. She holds a doctorate in politics and education from Columbia University.

She said she had received positive emails since the meeting, and immediately after, committee members supported her in moments not shown in the video of the meeting, including walking her back to her car and talking to her to make sure she was okay.

Rep. Seth Moulton, who represents Beverly, released a statement on Monday decrying the Beverly swap as well as an incident over Labor Day weekend in Danvers in which an apple picking farm called police on a black couple and accused them of stealing apples.

“In just about a week, my office has received reports of at least two incidents of racial profiling in the Sixth District,” Moulton’s statement said. “Both incidents targeted members of our black community. I shouldn’t have to say this, but let me be perfectly clear: racism, racial profiling and any form of discrimination have absolutely no place in our community or anywhere else.

“Too many of us watch viral videos and think what we see could never happen here. They’ve happened here twice this week,” Moulton added.

McKenzie said she felt the exchange at the meeting sparked an effort to ensure respectful and civil speech, an outcome she views as a positive.

“I wouldn’t have wanted that moment to just be about me being at the center of an unfortunate incident,” McKenzie said. “I have feelings and I think it matters and it’s important, but I think for me the most important thing is if we can see a way forward, if we feel there is progress that can be done as a city or at a regional level because there’s more sensitivity to how we engage with each other, so I think that’s a win for that.

Amanda Kaufman can be contacted at Follow her on Twitter @amandakauf1.