BOSTON

Boston School Committee Chair Resigns After Mocking Names During Meeting

Michael Loconto can be heard in audio recordings mocking names of community members taking part in a discussion about exams schools

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The chair of the Boston School Committee has resigned after drawing swift criticism for mocking the names of community members during a committee meeting, Mayor Marty Walsh announced Thursday.

During the virtual meeting, which stretched late into the night, Michael Loconto can be heard mocking names of people taking part in a discussion about exams schools in the Boston Public School District.

At around 11:30 p.m., the moderator of the meeting can be heard on an audio recording saying the names of upcoming participants from the community. Loconto can then be heard saying a series of names under his breath that did not match the names of the people scheduled to speak and that appeared to mock those names.

In a statement, Walsh said he accepted Loconto's resignation Thursday morning.

"While (Loconto) conveyed to me his personal embarrassment and his desire to seek forgiveness, his comments were hurtful and wrong," Walsh said.

"None of us wishes to be defined by a single moment in our lives and no one knows that better than me. Michael is someone who has done important and difficult work for the people of Boston, and especially our children, but we cannot accept the disparagement of members of our community."

The resignation comes after Loconto apologized at least twice amid a firestorm of criticism.

Loconto initially apologized during the meeting, saying he had received a number of texts alerting him to what they heard.

“I do want to take a moment again and just say I’m sorry if I was a distraction earlier," he said. "I wasn’t intending to offend anyone. My comments were taken out of context and not intended to reference anything in this meeting. If anyone took offense to that, I’m mortified and I’m terribly sorry."

In a tweet Thursday morning, Loconto asked for forgiveness, saying it was "not ever my intention to mock anyone."

City Councilor Andrea Campbell, a mayoral candidate, called for Loconto's resignation and said his behavior should not be tolerated by the Mayor.

"I was deeply disappointed and upset," Campbell said Thursday. "He didn't immediately apologize, and he tried to either brush them off or get folks to continue with their public testimony."

Other city councilors echoed the remarks.

"I couldn't believe — really couldn't believe what I heard. I was very stunned. Very shocked," said at-large Boston City Councilor Annissa Essaibi-George, who was one of the first to call on Loconto to resign.

As a woman with immigrant parents and a last name that she admits is hard for some people to pronounce, Essaibi-George said she knows the difference between an honest mistake and what she heard at the meeting.

"We make mistakes, we do make mistakes. And some mistakes are even unprofessional but sometimes excusable. This here — what happened last night — is not excusable," she said.

City Councilor Michelle Wu said in a tweet: "As someone who has dealt with comments like this my entire life, this is not only deeply offensive, but blatantly racist and harmful to our efforts to create policy in partnership with community members impacted by these important decisions."

Campbell and Essaibi-George say this wasn't the first time Loconto's behavior has raised questions.

“In the past, people have sort of emailed and called with respect to his tone or cutting them off at different meetings,” Campbell said.

“There’s always been conversations about this and sort of the general demeanor sometimes of the former chair of the Boston School Committee in responding to comments I’ve made before the school committee,” Essaibi-George said.

NBC10 Boston has reached out to Loconto for comment but has not heard back.

His remarks came amid a discussion about admissions tests for the city's exam schools. In a vote that came shortly before 2 a.m., the committee unanimously approved a proposal to drop the tests for a year during the pandemic.

A new Harvard report reveals that black and Latino students who have similar MCAS scores as their white and Asian classmates still face hurdles preventing admission to the city’s top exam schools.

The vote came shortly before 2 a.m. on Thursday, after more than eight hours of discussion during a virtual meeting. The decision applies to the 2021-22 school year.

Admissions decisions for the 2021-22 academic year will now be based on students' grades, MCAS scores and zip codes.

Superintendent Dr. Brenda Cassellius said Wednesday night's meeting "was a profound moment for Boston school children that charts the course for the best and most equitable way we can continue admitting students into our exam schools for the 2021-22 school year, given the COVID-19 pandemic."

Cassellius said she did not want Loconto's comments to overshadow what was accomplished in the meeting.

"The meeting featured hours of impassioned, thoughtful testimony from members of the Boston Public Schools community who believe in public education and equitable opportunities for all of our young people," Dr. Cassellius said in a statement Thursday night. "I share in the hurt and disappointment that others are feeling following the unacceptable comments made by former Chairperson Loconto. I do not want that to overshadow what was accomplished last night,"

BPS is committed to examining its policies and procedures through an antiracist lens, the superintendent said.

"Last night’s School Committee vote to suspend the entrance test to the exam schools for next school year, due to the inequities exacerbated and challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, is an important step in the right direction," she said.

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