Mary Skipper came into her new job as the superintendent of Boston Public Schools with high hopes, making big promises to revamp the beleaguered district. “We need every place in Boston Public Schools to be a place where students run into the building,” she said in June, shortly after she was hired. “We need it to be a place where our families trust that what we say we’re going to do, we do.”
Skipper now has an opportunity to show she means it. On Wednesday, the district released a new report on the now-defunct Mission Hill K-8 School — the third and final phase of an investigation commissioned by BPS and conducted by the law firm Hinckley Allen. The report documents how key failures that led to the Jamaica Plain school’s closure trace all the way up to top district leaders. If Skipper is indeed determined to rebuild trust, then she must clearly inform the public of the steps BPS will take to ensure that what happened at Mission Hill will never happen again.
That starts with accountability. The first phase of the Hinckley Allen investigation, which came out before Skipper became superintendent, resulted in a damning report that revealed systemic problems with how Mission Hill school officials handled problems of bullying and sexual misconduct among students; a chronic neglect of students with disabilities and special education programs; and a school that was seriously struggling to provide its students with the necessary academic tools to succeed. The findings prompted Boston Mayor Michelle Wu to promise “accountability to every level of the district.”
Still, other than shutting down the school — which, to be sure, was the right call — it’s unclear if anyone, whether Mission Hill officials or BPS leaders, has faced any disciplinary action for their negligence and the harm that it caused students and their families. Unless that happens, it would be a tall order to expect Boston families to suddenly begin trusting BPS, as Skipper hopes. After all, if some of the school officials responsible for the massive failures at Mission Hill are still around, then who’s to say that they’ve learned the right lessons and won’t make the same mistakes?
That’s why it’s incumbent on the new superintendent to release the entire investigation, so that the public can itself hold BPS accountable. Though the first and third phases of the Hinckley Allen investigation have been released — with redactions — the second phase, which delved into the failures of BPS personnel, has yet to be released. A spokesperson for BPS told the editorial board that the report on the second phase of the investigation will not be released because it includes confidential personnel matters and recommendations that are protected by attorney-client privilege.
But as this page has said before, while it’s important to protect the privacy of students and their families, school and district officials who either remain at BPS or are on their way to work at other schools deserve some level of scrutiny. It would seem reasonable to think BPS could waive attorney-client privilege where it is in the public interest and release a report with the necessary redactions, as they did with the first and third phases of the investigation.
Skipper has already announced some of the steps she’s going to take, including commissioning an audit of BPS systems and protocols, reorganizing her senior leadership team, and improving oversight of schools by splitting them into regions, among other things. That’s a good start.
But there’s no reason for BPS to wait for yet another report before taking tangible steps to rebuild trust, and until there is more transparency and accountability, Skipper is asking Boston residents to take it on faith that changes will be made for the better.
The way BPS responds to the latest report on the Mission Hill scandal will be an early glimpse into Skipper’s style of leadership. If she wants to show Boston that her tenure will be a happy departure from the past, then she has to stand up to the people who let the students of Mission Hill down. The longer she waits, the more reason people have to believe the direction of BPS will be much the same. Good luck building trust then.
Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us on Twitter at @GlobeOpinion.