U.S. Attorney Finds Civil Rights Violation at Boston Latin School

Carmen Ortiz's office found a mishandled case of racism allegations and uneven discipline for students of color.

After a year of turmoil for the Boston Latin School—a grassroots effort to spread awareness about its racial climate, the resignation of two administrators—a months-long federal investigation at the school has found it violated the Civil Rights Act.

The office of U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz announced the decision on Monday, and said that school leaders have agreed to a series of steps to address the issues identified in the study.

Ortiz’s office found that the school violated the landmark 1964 legislation in its handling of a case of alleged racism at the school. School leaders did not properly address allegations that a male student directed a racial slur at a female peer and threatened to lynch her, investigators found.

The probe also “raised concerns” about two other specific incidents and “the overall effectiveness of its efforts to create an inclusive school climate for all of its students,” and found the school “did not consistently apply policies and procedures relating to student discipline.”

Ortiz announced her office would be conducting the investigation in March, at the urging of local civil rights groups. In Monday’s release, her office says the findings are the result of more than 200 interviews and a review of thousands of pages of documents.

As part of its mandatory response to the findings, Ortiz’s office says Boston Latin has agreed to:

  • Develop mandatory annual trainings for students, faculty and staff at BLS covering racial harassment, retaliatory conduct, reporting procedures and policies, and cultural competence;
  • Institute a system of restorative justice at BLS;
  • Establish a Diversity/Non-Discrimination Officer at BLS responsible for monitoring complaints of harassment, discrimination, and retaliation; and
  • Conduct an annual school-wide survey of the racial climate at BLS.

“Boston Latin School is one of the most prestigious public high schools in the nation. Its rich history and well-deserved reputation for academic excellence make it vital that the school provide a supportive learning environment where students of all races can learn without fear of harassment or discrimination,”  Ortiz says in a statement. “All students should feel welcome and safe at BLS regardless of their racial background.  Today’s resolution will help ensure that Boston Latin responds thoroughly and appropriately to complaints of race-based discrimination and provides a dynamic and racially and ethnically sensitive learning space for the extraordinary students who pass through its doors. We commend Boston Public Schools for its cooperation and we are confident that the District will continue its work to foster an inclusive climate for all students.”

Civil rights groups, in a joint statement, say the ruling “reminds us that we, as a city and nation, still have work to do to ensure that all students are safe and welcome to pursue their equal right to education.” The statement was co-authored by the ACLU, the NAACP, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice, and Massachusetts Advocates for Children.

The findings are not related to an announcement from Mayor Marty Walsh Monday on Boston Herald Radio that BLS has been downgraded from Level 1 to Level 2 in a tiering system for public schools.