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THE GREAT DIVIDE

Boston School Committee member to temporarily lead board after previous chair’s abrupt resignation

Michael D. O'Neill smiled as committee members applauded him after he was elected chairman in 2013.
Michael D. O'Neill smiled as committee members applauded him after he was elected chairman in 2013.Yoon S. Byun/Globe Staff/File

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Boston School Committee member Michael O’Neill temporarily will take over the leadership of the board, following a text messaging scandal that caused the abrupt resignations of the chair and another member.

O’Neill, who was serving as vice chair, previously led the seven-member board from 2013 to 2017. He is the longest serving member of the mayoral appointed committee and joined the board in 2008 when Thomas M. Menino was mayor.

Born and raised in Jamaica Plain, O’Neill is a graduate of Boston Latin School and currently is serving as chair of the Board of the Council of the Great City Schools, a coalition of 76 big-city school districts nationwide. The Charlestown resident also has lived in Hyde Park and West Roxbury as an adult before moving to Charlestown about 15 years ago.

The School Committee is expected to hold its next meeting on June 16. O’Neill said on Wednesday that he would defer comment until next week’s meeting.

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Former chair Alexandra Oliver-Dávila resigned from the board on Monday, days after fellow member Lorna Rivera quit the board.

Recently released text messages between the two revealed they made disparaging comments about West Roxbury families during a contentious meeting last October, which also led to the downfall of another former chair, Michael Loconto, who was caught on a hot microphone mocking some speakers with Asian-sounding names.

The School Committee at the time was discussing a historic proposal to temporarily drop the entrance test for the city’s three exam schools due to the pandemic. The temporary admission plan, which the committee eventually approved that night, doled out most seats by grades and ZIP codes.

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The change was expected to increase the chances of Black and Latino applicants getting in while decreasing the chances of white and Asian students. That night, many Asian and white parents — a number from West Roxbury — complained the changes were unfair and discriminatory.

Early in the meeting Rivera texted to Oliver-Dávila, who was jubilant about making the admission change: “Wait until the white racists start yelling at us.”

Oliver-Dávila responded, “Whatever. They’re delusional,” She later added, “I hate WR” in reference to West Roxbury.

“Sick of Westie whites,” Rivera replied. “Me too. I really feel like saying that,” Oliver-Dávila texted.

The messages originally were collected by the city last fall at the request of the Globe, which sought all texts regarding school business that transpired during the meeting. But city officials, who gave the Globe dozens of texts in November, decided to keep secret the most controversial exchanges between Oliver-Dávila and Rivera.

In recent weeks, an anonymous tipster began alerting the media about the existence of the omitted text messages.

The School Committee is getting ready to take up the exam school issue again. A task force is finalizing recommendations to make permanent changes to the admission requirements and the School Committee is expected to vote on it this summer.


James Vaznis can be reached at james.vaznis@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globevaznis.