School Committee argues those text messages don't change anything

A School Committee lawyer argued Tuesday that leaving out the "Westie whites" exchange from text messages handed over to the Globe and a woman who turned out to be a secret member of the parents group suing over exam-school admissions was an innocent mistake, not part of some nefarious scheme to hide racial hatred by School Committee members.

In a motion asking a federal judge not to re-open the case, the committee's outside lawyer, Kay Hodge, added that even if those texts had been included in response to public-records requests, it's hardly proof of racial bias in the way the committee devised a system using both pre-Covid grades and Zip codes to figure out who to offer seats at the three exam schools - because Alexandra Oliver-Dávila and Lorna Rivera's feelings about certain White parents they felt were biased were already evident in the thousands of pages of documents the parents group wanted to submit as part of its case.

Even when coupled with Committee Chairman Michael Loconto's babbling about Chinese names in the middle of the meeting on picking a new selection process for the coming school year, the comments were not enough to make either US District Court Judge William Young or the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit block the new system. Both said the core design of the system was not racially biased. - Boston school officials said they needed a new admissions system, at least for the coming year. because they could not give an exam during the pandemic.

Hodge writes:

"[W]hile wholly inappropriate and evincing extremely poor judgment, these messages simply do not show that the Interim Plan was motivated by racial animus. First, Rivera's comment – "Wait til the white racists start yelling [a]t us" – merely expresses her personal belief that white people she considers racist would attempt to confront the Committee and challenge the Interim Plan on racial grounds. Oliver-Dávila's response – 'Whatever…they are delusional' – is equally innocuous. To claim that White racists are 'delusional' is not a controversial stand with which any right-thinking person would take issue.

"While more problematic, Rivera's related comment – that she is "[s]ick of westie whites' – offers more of the same. Rivera's evident frustration with this particular group's insistence that its privileged status be maintained is, if not politically correct, at least explainable. It certainly does not rise to the level of an affirmative showing of some malicious racial animus on the part of Rivera specifically, or the School Committee generally, in implementing the Interim Plan."

After the Globe printed the leaked, missing texts, the Boston Parent Coalition for Academic Excellence Corp., made up mostly of White and Asian-American parents, asked Young to re-open the case, if not for the 2021-2022 school year then to hear their case for a permanent injunction against further use of the non-exam admissions system.

Last week, Young denied a request from Hodge for more time to answer the parents' request, saying he needs answer now to "profound and most serious allegations - potentially fraud on the Court." Young holds a hearing on the parents' request and the BPS answer, on Friday.

In her 20-page filing today, Hodge explained how the messages about "Westie whites" were not included in the school department's reply to Globe reporters and a Dorchester resident who had asked for all committee text messages during the nine-hour meeting at which the temporary process was approved:

School Committee member use their own phones, rather than department-issued devices, so BPS asked committee members to provide screen captures of any text exchanges with other members. Three city lawyers - then chief city lawyer Eugene O'Flaherty, assistant corporation counsel Henry Luthin and Shawn Williams, the city's expert on public-records requests - went through all the messages to separate out those that had nothing to do with official business.

"For example, messages about "westie whites" and "eating kit kats" were not included because BPS believed those comments were not made in the member’s public capacity."

In its request to reopen the case, the parent group said BPS had deliberately withheld the text messages from it - and thus from the court. But Hodge writes that the group, in fact, never asked for text messages but instead for all sorts of other documents.

In addition to the Globe, a Dorchester resident named Darragh Murphy did ask specifically for text messages from the meeting - once in November and again earlier this year.

Hodge writes that until the group's lawyer e-mailed her on June 16, nobody on the city side knew that Murphy was, in fact, a member of the parent group - she is not named on the group's incorporation papers, filed with the state - and that, in any case, if anybody, including the Globe, had a problem with the text messages they got in response to their requests, they should have filed a complaint with the Secretary of State's office, which they did not.

Hodge does not explain how they could have complained about text messages they did not know existed until somebody leaked them to the Globe, however. But she continues that if we're going to talk about withholding information, she continues, let's talk about Murphy and the parent group:

"The Coalition’s Motion [to re-open the case] rests entirely upon the unfounded assumption that BPS must have been aware of the relationship between the Coalition and Murphy and therefore purposefully withheld from the Coalition the text messages at issue in this case. ...

"The Coalition’s Motion improperly suggests that it made the public records requests at issue or that BPS had knowledge of Murphy’s involvement with the Coalition. In the Coalition’s Preliminary Statement, it states that the text messages "should [have] been provided to the Boston Parents in response to its public records requests." However, the Coalition itself never made a request for text messages. Information from the Secretary of State’s Office available to BPS at the time of the Coalition’s filing did not list Murphy as a member or officer of the Coalition. Furthermore, Murphy made her requests in her individual capacity with no apparent association to the Coalition. Nevertheless, the Coalition continues to represent throughout its Motion that it was the requestor of text messages."

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