Education

Boston students: Superintendent should resign over handling of complaints surrounding counseling sessions

"Brenda Cassellius played an active role in downplaying the abuse that occurred while continuing to stifle the voices of students," said Khymani James, a senior at Boston Latin Academy.

Student leaders (left to right) Naesoj Ware, Charlene Adames-Pimentel, Khymani James, and Ajanee Igharo spoke at a press conference Tuesday. Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Four Boston Public Schools student leaders are calling for the resignation of Superintendent Brenda Cassellius over how she handled their concerns surrounding an unlicensed form of group therapy some students have described as “cult-like.”

Khymani James, a former member of the Boston Student Advisory Council, said Tuesday that Cassellius should have been more serious in her handling of student complaints and worries regarding feeling pressured to participate in “Re-evaluation Counseling,” or RC.

If Cassellius does not resign, acting Mayor Kim Janey should fire her from the position, James, a senior at Boston Latin Academy, said.

“Brenda Cassellius played an active role in downplaying the abuse that occurred while continuing to stifle the voices of students,” said James, who resigned from his BSAC and School Committee positions in March, according to The Boston Globe.

RC is both a version of group counseling and an international organization that promotes its practice. The method involves people relating to difficult personal experiences and releasing emotions by laughing, crying, or screaming.

Last week, Boston Public Schools released a third-party investigation into the BSAC’s relationship with the nonprofit Youth on Board, which facilitated the sessions, and the student union group. The report found students felt the organization’s now former director, Jenny Sazama, stifled their voices and emotionally manipulated them, primarily through the use of unlicensed re-evaluation counseling they felt pressured to participate in.

Cassellius subsequently announced the district would cut ties with Youth on Board, and days later, after the publication of a Globe report detailing student experiences, said school officials will expand their investigation to include a deeper look into the controversial counseling sessions, among taking other actions.

Advertisement:

The superintendent also placed a school employee who co-directed the BSAC on administrative leave.

Asked on Wednesday morning for comment regarding calls for Cassellius’ resignation, district officials referred to a statement released by Cassellius last week.

“I was saddened and angered reading the deeply painful stories shared by current and former students in the press this morning,” Casselius said in the May 27 statement. “I will not tolerate any situation where any student feels they were mistreated or unheard. The issues raised by students, the investigation conducted by BPS, and the stories recounted in the media clearly show that we need to look even deeper to fully understand the size and scope of the concerns expressed by members of the Boston Student Advisory Council.”

According to the Globe, students say Cassellius’ administration e-mailed the families of BSAC members during the initial investigation in an attempt to minimize the extent RC was administrated to students. Officials wrote students were given the option to participate in the “resource that uses very little of the theory and practice of Re-evaluation Counseling.”

James said Tuesday the report detailing the investigation was “sugar-coated,” and explained that another student told him Cassellius, in a meeting, told BSAC members not to speak with the news media, the Globe reports.

Students who spoke also called on district officials to fire Maria Estrada, the employee placed on leave, and on District Attorney Rachael Rollins and Attorney General Maura Healey to investigate, the newspaper reports.

The district also should have monitored Sazama, they said.

Advertisement:

”Through the help of BPS and its neglect, she was able to groom younger generations” to join RC, Ajanee Igharo, a junior at Boston Latin Academy, said. “Jenny Sazama was given the opportunity to abuse kids for almost two decades … Our students should mean more to the city.”

Jump To Comments

Conversation

This discussion has ended. Please join elsewhere on Boston.com