The Boston School Committee will begin taking applications on Thursday for two new members after its chair and another person stepped down, Mayor Kim Janey said at a news conference Wednesday at City Hall.
The two Boston School Committee members, both Latina, resigned last week amid criticism of racially charged texts they shared disparaging families of students.
"More than 40% of Boston school students are Latino. With the resignation of two Latino leaders, there is a void that must be filled," Janey said.
Anyone can apply to be on the committee when the process opens Thursday on boston.gov. Applications will be vetted by the nominating panel, to which Janey said she's appointed Betty Francisco, a co-founder of Amplify Latinx.
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The panel will provide several named to Janey within a month -- any eligible Boston resident can apply, the mayor said.
She also announced that all members of the Boston School Committee, as well as staff of Boston leadership, would be given racial equity and leadership training.
"Healing these wounds starts with informed conversations and the tools to create shared solutions," Janey said.
The texts that led to the the two resignations were sent during a committee meeting last October as the board was considering a proposal to temporarily drop the entrance test requirement to the city’s exam schools.
“Best school committee meeting ever. I’m trying not to cry,” school committee Chair Alexandra Oliver-Davila texted to fellow committee member Lorna Rivera, according to the texts obtained by The Boston Globe.
“Wait until the white racists start yelling at us,” Rivera texted back. “Whatever. They’re delusional,” texted Oliver-Davila. “I hate WR,” she texted Rivera again, a reference to the city’s West Roxbury neighborhood.
“Sick of Westie whites,” Rivera replied. “Me too. I really feel like saying that,” Oliver-Davila texted.
In her resignation letter, Oliver-Davila apologized for the texts and the hurt they caused.
“I regret my personal texts, it was inappropriate,” she wrote. “But I am not ashamed of the feelings from history that made me write those words.”
Oliver-Davila cast the comments in the context of her personal history growing up in a city where she said was ostracized and teased, called racial slurs, spat on, and faced physical threats of violence.
During the meeting, Oliver-Davila said she felt transported to her youth as members of the public delivered testimony that she said at times was racist in nature.
“It was painful. And in the heat of the moment it caused me to vent by sending inappropriate personal text messages to one of my colleagues. I regrettably allowed myself to do what others have done to me. I failed my own standards,” she said.
In her resignation letter, Rivera didn’t mention the texts, but wrote about receiving “racist threatening emails and social media personal attacks” from those opposed to changes in admissions policies to the exam high schools.
“I am being targeted as a Latina gender studies professor who teaches about racism, patriarchy, and oppression,” she wrote. “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.”
Janey said in a written statement last week that the texts were “unfortunate and unfairly disparaged members of the Boston Public Schools community.”
But Janey went on to praise Oliver-Davila and Rivera as “dedicated stewards of the committee and passionate advocates for Boston families.”
“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,” Janey wrote. “Sadly, their departure also leaves a void in Latina leadership on our school committee that I am determined to address.”
Oliver-Davila is the second school committee chair to resign in less than a year in Boston.
Last October, former chair Michael Loconto stepped down after appearing to mock Asian names during a virtual meeting.
The meeting was the same gathering during which Oliver-Davila and Rivera exchanged the texts that led to Oliver-Davila’s resignation.
Loconto made the comments after the names of several parents who wanted to speak were read. He apologized during the meeting and later tweeted an apology.