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Black exodus from BPS central office raises concerns

Inquiry into alleged targeting incomplete after nearly a year

Avery Bleichfeld
Black exodus from BPS central office raises concerns
The BPS central office in Nubian Square. BANNER PHOTO

A prolonged investigation into allegations that a dozen Boston Public Schools administrators of color have been pushed out of their jobs has left the former administrators and their allies frustrated and concerned.

Current and former administrators in the BPS central office in Nubian Square have alleged the district used administrative leave and investigatory meetings — parts of the School Department’s process for disciplining employees — to force out top-ranking leaders in recent years.

Those sources said the efforts were focused on administrators of color in what the district calls Tier D and Tier E positions, near the top of the managerial structure. Those administrators were described as individuals who were using their position to advocate for equity issues, like support of students of color.

The Banner interviewed three impacted administrators, current or former, who asked their names not be used.

Those allegedly ousted included department leaders who were broadly seen as successful. In a review by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) released in 2020, one of the strengths identified within the district’s human resources and professional development work was efforts supporting the recruitment and retention of staff of color.

An op-ed for the Banner in 2022 by Ruby Reyes, director of the Boston Education Justice Alliance, noted that two senior administrators responsible for hiring Black and Latino administrators — and who headed one of the programs highlighted by DESE — were put on leave, even as the start of that school year approached with the district reporting 203 vacancies to fill by the first week of September.

Concerns about administrative turnover were first collectively raised in a letter sent Aug. 24, 2022 by group of 15 former BPS employees, all of whom had left previously and independently of the alleged targeting.

The 15, who signed the letter as “concerned educators of color,” highlighted a pattern of individuals of color being subjected to investigatory meetings and placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation.

One former administrator in the central office, who spoke to the Banner on the condition of anonymity due to fears of professional retaliation, said she was put under investigation for over six months, during which the people who worked with her were asked questions about her activities and character. She said they told her they felt pressured to characterize her unfavorably.

At the end of the process, the administrator was cleared of all wrongdoing, but said the toll the process took on her work and her reputation prompted her to quit.

Throughout much of the process, she said she received little or incorrect information about why she was being investigated.

Another administrator who spoke with the Banner said that during the process she was asked questions that suggested the district had received a complaint about her, related to religion. When she was officially told the charges — which were later found not to be true — they were related to suspected fraudulent activities.

Barbara Fields, one of the “concerned educators of color” and a member of the Black Educators’ Alliance of Massachusetts, said there has long been a pattern of racism in the district, but described the higher rate of alleged targeting and more senior administrators facing it as a newer pattern.

“It wasn’t as pronounced in the manner in which they’re going about doing it,” said Fields, who once led the district’s Office of Equity. “The people they seem to be targeting, and the fact that there’s more senior-level people, that seems to be a newer pattern than what we saw in the past.”

The “concerned educators of color” hoped that with their letter being sent about a month before the official start date of Superintendent Mary Skipper last year, it would be well-received and acted upon.

“Mary Skipper [was] just coming into the district, so it’s nothing that she has to own,” said Muriel Leonard, another signer of the letter. “This is the perfect opportunity for her to say, ‘Well, what is going on, why are all of these investigatory meetings happening and what’s the percentage of people of color who have gone through this process, what’s been the result?’”

Last fall, Skipper brought in outside attorney Natashia Tidwell to do an investigation. In a reply to the concerned educators’ letter, Skipper said she was committed to providing employees a clear notice of their rights at the outset of a disciplinary process.

Individuals connected with the situation have expressed concerns, however, about how long Tidwell’s investigation is taking.

“Over the course of a year, we have had no response,” Fields said. “I know when I headed up the Office of Equity, it was really important to look into these matters in a timely fashion and give a report to the superintendent with recommendations and report of the findings.”

According to BPS spokesperson Max Baker, the matter is still under investigation, but the findings of the report will be presented to the Boston School Committee prior to the start of the 2023-24 school year. If the district publishes the report in part or in whole, it will be following its presentation to the School Committee. BPS didn’t comment directly on any of the allegations.

The School Committee’s next scheduled meeting is Aug. 30, the only one before the school year begins Sept. 7.

There are also concerns about the fact that Tidwell, the outside lawyer, seems not to have reached out to the affected administrators or others closely involved with the situation, like Fields. None of the three impacted administrators the Banner interviewed said they had been contacted by Tidwell.

In a reply in November to the letter expressing concern about the alleged efforts to push administrators of color out of the central office, Skipper said the investigation would focus on whether school leaders and administrators of color are disciplined and placed on administrative leave at a higher rate than their white counterparts.

An administrator within the central office said one of the only updates staffers have received suggested it will be a data analysis rather than an investigation of actual incidents.

More than one administrator affected by the alleged push-out said they don’t believe a report solely analyzing data can appropriately address the issue.

The administrators and their allies said they feel the BPS Office of Equity is not equipped to appropriately handle the concerns about targeting.

One former administrator said when she went to the equity office, she was turned away.

“If it wasn’t a slam dunk case of someone who was white against someone who was Black or brown, quite honestly nothing has happened,” she said.

The former administrator said she thinks the issues with the equity office are long-standing and extend beyond the tenure of any one superintendent.

Sophia Hall, deputy litigation director at Lawyers for Civil Rights, said the exodus of administrators of color, in a district with a history of issues around racism, makes her eyebrow go up.

“It really is shocking to see about a dozen high-ranking employees of color be pushed out all within a relatively short timeframe,” Hall said. “It really raises a lot of red flags.”

Black Educators’ Alliance of Massachusetts, Boston Education Justice Alliance, boston public schools, BPS, BPS central office, racism