After a damning report highlighting a decade of sweeping serious incidents of sexual abuse and bullying as well as neglecting students with disabilities by school administraors, the Boston School Committee voted last Thursday to close the Mission Hill K-8 PIlot School in Jamaica Plain.
After a completed external investigation by the Hinckley Allen law firm that documented harm to children and families over the past decade Boston Public School Superintendent Dr. Brenda Cassellius recommended closing the school. Five families won a $650,000 settlement from the district after alleging a student had repeatedly sexually assaulted their children on campus in a bathroom but nothing was done.
At last week’s meeting five committee members voted in favor of closing the school. Those members were Jeri Robinson, Michael O’Neill, Brandon Cardet-Hernandez, Stephen Alkins, and Quoc Tran. Rafaela Polanco Garcia abstained and Lorena Lopera wasn’t at the meeting.
According to Hickley Allen’s report it became clear that all attempts at intervention at Mission Hill K-8 PIlot School had not garnered an acceptable level of progress.
“Even with serious interventions during the 2021-22 School Year, including the removal of school leaders and other educators, infusion of significant Central Office support, and extensive staff training, the school has failed to make the necessary improvements,” read the report. “Unfortunately, this has led to the conclusion that children will continue to be harmed
if the school remains open.”
Cassellius argued that her recommendation to close aims to ensure that all current students will have the opportunity to learn in a physically and emotionally safe environment where they can flourish academically and socially.
At last week’s School Committee hearing one parent testified that it had taken many years in therapy to work through the trauma inflicted on her daughter while she attended Mission Hill. She reported to this day her daughter cannot drive near the school or she will have a panic attack.
However, many parents testified in support of keeping the school open like Jamaica Plain parent Tokoyo Orimoto.
“You’re punishing the many students who love Mission Hill School and removing the important stability that the school has provided,” said Orimoto. “I don’t want to downplay the extremely traumatic experience that many families have had… but by closing our school, you are creating more trauma on a larger scale. When I told my son about the potential closure, he immediately collapsed to the ground, sobbing.”
Orimoto also lobbied the School Committee to allow Mission Hill students to get priority placement at a new school.
“I urge you to work to minimize our trauma and ensure that Mission Hill School families get priority, being placed in the schools they would like to attend, and to maintain the incredible school community that we spent years building,” she said at the meeting.
In the end Dr. Cassellius said her recommendation to close the school, while tough for many parents to accept, was rooted in the data during the external investigation.
According to the Hinckley Allen report five external reports substantiated a culture and climate where students repeatedly experienced unaddressed sexual misconduct, bias-based conduct, and bullying over a ten year period.
Also academic data in the report demonstrated wide gaps in achievement and growth between
White, Black, and Latinx students, students with disabilities, and English learners. The school has been in “Transformation” status for the three years and remains ranked in the lowest 5 percent of schools in the Commonwealth.
The report also found high non-compliance rates in fulfilling special education timelines, such as completion and implementation of Individualized Education Plans, completing annual reviews and three-year reevaluations.