Boston school board votes to close Mission Hill school

The committee’s quick action follows recommendations for closure from Superintendent Brenda Cassellius, who commissioned the third-party investigation, and Mayor Michelle Wu.

As enrollment has declined over the past 15 years, the district has closed schools due to a number of factors, including building condition, academic performance, and declining popularity. But this appears to be the first time in recent history that the district has closed a school after an investigation documented misconduct. Mission Hill’s failure to meet academic standards and provide special education, also highlighted in the survey, played a role in the decision, according to district documents.

Five members of the committee voted Thursday to close the school. Committee member Rafaela Polanco abstained, saying closing the school would further traumatize students and families at the school. Member Lorena Lopera did not attend the meeting.

The school, located in Jamaica Plain, is promoted as a haven for social justice, social practical and emotional learning, and a diverse student body; the school is 34% white, 30% Latino, and 28% black. His supporters wonder why the district is closing the school when educators accused of wrongdoing are no longer running it.

At Thursday night’s meeting, parents of current students said investigators never asked their opinion on the state of the school and said the closure removed their children from a safe, nurturing environment. and academically stimulating.

“You are punishing the many students who love Mission Hill School and taking away the important stability the school has provided,” said Mission Hill mother-of-two Toyoko Orimoto, who urged the committee to keep the school. opened.

Another Mission Hill parent and school board member questioned the district’s motives, asking if the district was closing the school to prevent the state from putting the district into receivership when the state reviews the district’s progress in meeting the needs of special education students, fixing transportation issues and other goals.

“I find it hard to believe that this recommendation, coming years after the most severe damage occurred, is driven by current safety concerns,” Allison Cox said.

But other parents at the meeting painted a different picture of the school, which echoes the issues detailed in the survey. Asha LeRay said her daughter, who now attends another school, cries every time she walks past the Mission Hill building.

Cassellius called for the outside investigation last year after five families won a $650,000 settlement from the district after alleging a student repeatedly sexually assaulted their children on campus.

The 189-page report by law firm Hinckley Allen reviewed a 10-year period at Mission Hill and found yet more abuse allegations and little response from administrators. They largely blamed a former principal whom they referred to as “MH Admin 3”, who led the school for 12 years until 2019.

According to the report, the former director “cultivated and tolerated a culture of widespread indifference to sexual misconduct, bullying and bias-based conduct and rules, regulations and policies, and created a climate of hostility and intimidation towards parents and staff who questioned or disagreed with this culture.

The headteacher also “fostered a culture of non-compliance” in special education, according to the study, and many students with learning disabilities did not receive the support they needed and it is guaranteed by law. With respect to instruction in reading, writing, and math, investigators concluded that Mission Hill failed to provide rigorous academic instruction.

The school “hid behind lofty goals of social justice and socio-emotional growth for students while failing to provide basic academic and safety services,” the report said.

The searing report only raises more questions about how the school and district handled the allegations at the school, according to city leaders. In the six years prior to the Hinkley Allen Inquiry, BPS received several complaints from parents, including concerns about school sexual abuse, and investigated some internally.

“How did abuses and dysfunctions of this magnitude go unnoticed and ignored by central office? Will Austin, chief executive of the Boston School Fund, an organization that raises money to increase the number of places in high-demand schools, asked the school committee during its meeting on Thursday. “The system was either not doing its job of running schools or chose to look the other way.”

Councilman Michael Flaherty, a former district attorney, on Wednesday asked the district to provide a breakdown of the total number of incidents of sexual assault and harassment reported to Boston Public Schools.

Flaherty also wants the district to list incidents at the school that were not handled according to state law and explain why the district hired an outside law firm to investigate the school rather than consult the Boston police.

Hinckley Allen will also lead two other investigations focused on the misconduct of school and district personnel, as well as safeguards the district can create to keep schools safe for students.

In the meantime, parents and students at the school will have to find a new place to study for the fall, well after the regular assignment process. The district will hold a special enrollment session for Mission Hill students and assign transition specialists to assist students, Cassellius said.

The Great Divide team explores educational inequality in Boston and across the state. Sign up to receive our newsletterand send ideas and advice to thegreatdivide@globe.com.


Bianca Vázquez Toness can be contacted at bianca.toness@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter at @biancavtoness.