The Boston school committee on Thursday voted 5-0, with one abstention, to close the Mission Hill K-8 School in Jamaica Plain, where children as young as 5 allegedly were victims of bullying and physical and sexual abuse by other students.
“I believe this decision, as painful as it is, puts our district on a path toward healing,” said school committee chair Jeri Robinson. “The safety, health and well-being of our students must remain our top priority. We have a lot of work to do to rebuild trust with our families, and together, we can emerge from this a stronger district.”
Superintendent Brenda Cassellius had recommended that the school be shuttered in June after she hired the Boston law firm Hinkley Allen last fall to investigate the allegations.
In a recently released, 189-page report, investigators concluded Mission Hill was “a failed school, one that largely hid behind its autonomous status and the philosophical ideals of (two administrators), often to the detriment of the Boston Public School students it served.”
“Far too many children were harmed…despite new school leadership,” Casselllius said.
But Edith Bazile, founder and executive director of Black Advocates for Educational Excellence, said Cassellius was not without blame because she was superintendent for three of the approximately seven years the abuse allegedly went on.
“As mandated reporters of suspected child abuse and neglect, she and her administration should immediately have intervened,” Bazile said. “Instead, while the law firm was investigating, the abuse was still continuing.”
Hinkley Allen’s report cited one child – identified only as Mission Hill, or MH, Student 1 – who repeatedly sexually abused other students in a one-person bathroom and elsewhere in the school. Rather than immediately reporting the incidents to the state Department of Children and Families, as required by law, staff initially suggested putting bells on the bathroom door, stationing an intern outside the bathroom or having two adults accompany Student 1 at all times.
These actions led to “troubling patterns of unsafe sexual behavior, bullying and physical violence to continue unabated,” the report said.
Staff who tried to intervene and report the suspected abuse were met with retaliation by school administrators, the report said.
Investigators also found that the school operated its own email server, and at the beginning of the investigation, the emails of the school leader and other staff members were deleted.
Superintendent Brenda Cassellius . (Staff Photo By Nancy Lane/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)