When Mayor Marty Walsh came out of Boston Latin School Thursday morning for a press conference, the faculty he had just met with stood behind him.
It wasn’t long before they walked away.
“We do not want the headmaster or assistant headmaster Flynn to resign,” Zita Cousens, a guidance counselor, shouted before walking away from the scene where the Mayor, Superintendent Tommy Chang and Chairman of the School Committee, Michael O’Neill, addressed reporters.
Cousens was one of many Boston Latin School faculty who begged Walsh and Chang not to accept the resignations of headmaster Lynne Mooney Teta and assistant headmaster Malcolm Flynn. Both administrators announced their departures earlier this week amid allegations that the school mishandled complaints of racially charged incidents. Both the Mayor and Superintendent declined to rescind the resignations.
“They made a decision, both Dr. Teta and Dr. Flynn, and I explained to the faculty I don’t feel it’s my place,” Walsh said.
The meeting, which lasted more than an hour, was tense, as faculty said they didn’t believe Teta and Flynn resigned by choice.
“There’s a lot of emotion and obviously a lot of passion,” Walsh said of the meeting. “It was sadness and somber. A lot of teachers really respect the work of Dr. Lynne Mooney Teta and Dr. Flynn.”
Shortly after hearing Walsh’s response, Boston Latin faculty left their post behind the mayor and quickly surrounded Teta and Flynn, who came to stand on the steps of the school a few yards away. The staff members insisted that the school is a safe place, and that the headmasters shouldn’t have to go in order for the school community to move forward.
“We do not want them to leave,” Cousens said again, as a few staff members near her wiped tears from their eyes.
Flynn, who taught at the school for more than 50 years, told reporters the school was not a racially toxic environment, and that the people who were demanding the resignations, including Michael Curry, president of the NAACP, and Kevin Peterson, the director of New Democracy Coalition, weren’t familiar with the reality of the school environment.
“The feds are here because of complaints from people who have never been in this school,” Flynn said. “If you find a school where kids are more respectful to each other, let me know.”
The federal investigation, which is being conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice, as well as a separate probe by the district’s Office of Equity, came after two students posted a YouTube video criticizing Teta and other administrators for ignoring or not taking seriously complaints of racism. The Office of Equity found that administrators violated school policy in the handling of one of seven reported incidents.
Some of the reported incidents are more than five years old, Flynn said.
“They were asked to think about racist incidents and needed to write something down,” he said.
He went on to say that people believe the school did nothing to address the complaints, which isn’t true. In February, he said, the School Department and the mayor should’ve issued a statement saying the school could’ve done more in some incidents, but that they would work with the administration to address the way complaints should be handled in the future.
Instead, he said, the existing narrative is that the school did absolutely nothing because Walsh and Chang didn’t stop that rumor.
“This whole thing could’ve been stopped in February,” Flynn said. “That’s all that was needed and I would have a job next year. I don’t believe I can be here having said what I’ve said.”
Wing Leung, a 10th grade geometry teacher, said she couldn’t imagine Boston Latin School without Flynn.
“He was a staple of the school,” the 12-year veteran teacher said. “He was here when I was a student and I have three small kids, and I always thought you would have to carry him out of this school and that he’d still be here when they were old enough to come. It’s a very sad day because, well, he’s Mr. Flynn. The shock isn’t over.”
Leung said neither Flynn nor Teta left on their own terms, and were unfairly treated by the School Department during the investigation process. In any large organization, such as ours, you’re going to have situations that happen, she said, but it’s the staff’s business to focus on educating the students.
“When there are problems, we take it as a learning opportunity, and we have done that this year,” she said. “I think it’s unfortunate that other people who have not been in the building don’t recognize it or don’t want to hear it and are still naysayers without fully knowing what is happening. A lot of the faculty felt like it was time to start speaking out because no one was speaking out on our behalf.”
The teachers spoke long after the students had gone home for the day. Before they left the building, the kids said they had no idea the Mayor was inside the school for a meeting, and that they were all told to go to the auditorium to watch a movie while the staff met.
“No one told us the Mayor was gonna be here,” said Victoria, a 17-year-old junior who asked that her name not be used because she still had one year left at the school. “I guess this whole thing is a reset button for the school, but I’m a little disappointed because I thought headmaster Teta was going to stay.”
Staff members clearly did, too, which is why they showed up to school today wearing purple shirts—the school color— in support of the administration.
“It’s in solidarity,” Cousens said. “We need to get the truth out there.”