Two Boston School Committee members, including Chair Alexandra Oliver-Davila, have resigned this week suddenly amidst the unexpected release of text messages that were disparaging to white people – particularly to white parents from West Roxbury.
Chair Oliver-Davila resigned on Tuesday, and Member Lorna Rivera – a professor at UMass-Boston – resigned on June 4. The disparaging text messages were part of a group of messages that were exchanged between members of the Committee during a marathon October 2020 meeting where the Committee voted in a temporary process for admission to the City’s three Exam Schools. It was a highly charged and controversial meeting, one where comments derogatory to Asian people were made in a “hot mic” moment by former Chair Michael Loconto. Those comments forced him to have to resign then, and other text messages were revealed also. However, the texts about “Westie Whites” between Oliver-Davila and Rivera weren’t included in that batch, but seemingly were withheld by the City – something that is still being debated. When they were finally released on Sunday, it was a new revelation from a contentious meeting whose repercussions seemingly have no end.
Acting Mayor Kim Janey said she respected the decision of them to resign, but indicated it left a void of Latina leadership on the Committee.
“I respect and support the decisions of Alexandra Oliver-Davila and Dr. Lorna Rivera to resign as members of the Boston School Committee,” she said. “Ms. Oliver-Davila and Dr. Rivera have been dedicated stewards of the committee and passionate advocates for Boston families. Their private remarks, which were recently made public, were unfortunate and unfairly disparaged members of the Boston Public Schools community. As women of color who advocate for racial equity in our schools, I also understand their comments were made in the wake of death threats and unacceptable racist attacks that were frightening, offensive, and painful. As their time on the school committee ends, their work to lift up equity in Boston Public Schools must continue.
“The shared experience of Ms. Oliver-Davila and Dr. Rivera, and their decision to step down, amplifies the need for meaningful dialog and important work we must do as a city to address racism,” she continued. “Sadly, their departure also leaves a void in Latina leadership on our school committee that I am determined to address.”
Supt. Brenda Cassellius said the situation will require accountability and community.
“The challenges BPS face will require both district accountability and community healing,” she said. “I will work alongside the School Committee to continue our work with our stakeholders as we dismantle systemic barriers to opportunity and open up access for all students. Creating a safe, welcoming, and culturally affirming environment for all students is a core value that we seek to live out every day.
The information shared…is disappointing and hurtful to the Boston Public Schools community, and to our larger efforts to combat racism in all forms,” she continued. “This is especially true after a year of racial reckoning and personal reflection unlike any other.”
The departure of both came in a flurry, starting with Rivera on June 3, when she send an e-mail to City officials saying she needed to resign due to racist attacks on her that have continued since February. She said she has received racist e-mails and social media contacts from those that disagree with her position on the Exam Schools vote, and she said white supremacists are coordinating efforts to oppose programs like Ethnic Studies, diversity and inclusion activities.
“I am being targeted as a Latina gender studies professor who teaches about racism and patriarchy and oppression,” read the June 3 e-mail provided by the City. “Because of the harassment and overwhelming stress from School Committee-related work, my mental and physical health has deteriorated, so I need to resign and recuperate.”
It was a few days later that her texts to Oliver-Davila were revealed in the Boston Globe, particularly the one about disliking “Westie Whites” as they were released to that newspaper over the weekend.
Oliver-Davila released a statement through the Mayor’s Office earlier this week, after officially resigning on Tuesday. She said the meeting last October transported her back to when she was an immigrant youth, who was not worthy. She said the testimony on that night about the Exam School process pushed her over the edge to do something she now regrets.
“It was painful,” she wrote. “And in the heat of the moment it caused me to vent by sending inappropriate personal text messages to one of my colleagues,” she wrote. “I regrettably allowed myself to do what others have done to me. I failed my own standards in this private exchange. These messages matched the sharpness of what was being delivered via public testimony that night.”
She said she has also been subject to constant racial undertones and personal attacks at School Committee meetings and in regular e-mails received by herself and other members. However, she said she did not want her actions to distract the Committee from its important work, and thus decided to step down.
Oliver-Davila is the long-time director of the Sociedad Latina program in Mission Hill, and became the chair in January.
At the moment, Vice Chair Michael O’Neill confirmed that he would assume the role of chair for the time being. At the next meeting, he said, he would convene the assembly of remaining members and the first order of business would be to select a new chair.
The meeting this week had been cancelled in the wake of the scandal, and the next meeting has not yet been called.
In the Exam School admissions change for the incoming class, the entrance exam was waived and a new seating formula was used based on zip code and grade point average. In that formula, Jamaica Plain did lose some seats from what it historically has received, but West Roxbury lost the most seats by the numbers.