Correction: This story initially said two additional teachers had been placed on leave, making a total of four. In face, Cassellius was referring to the two teachers placed on leave last month; no additional teachers have yet been put on leave.
BPS has hired an outside law firm for a "top-to-bottom investigation" of the school and the way its students are treated, School Superintendent Brenda Cassellius told parents in a recent letter.
In February, 2021, I first learned of alarming concerns from a set of Mission Hill K-8 parents. These allegations included a serious complaint that their child experienced persistent bullying and harassment that resulted in mental and physical harm. The parents further alleged that they consistently reported the persistent bullying to educators and school leaders and that those complaints went unaddressed.
I commissioned an investigation into this incident and learned through this investigation about a series of other complaints, settlement agreements, and past investigations about the school, under former administrations, including some that have been reported about in the media. Once we announced the decision to place these educators on leave, more parents came forward. We received a number of new parent complaints which are consistent with complaints already deemed credible and these, too, need to be reviewed. We have placed two additional educators on leave based on the seriousness of multiple complaints.
In fact, at least some BPS administrators were aware of problems at the school years before this past February. In 2017, two sets of parents sued BPS over the way the school failed to protect their children from bullying and repeated sexual aggression by one young student. BPS agreed to pay the parents, plus two other families $650,000 in August of this year to settle the case.
The more recent case, which involved straight bullying became public around the same time as BPS was reaching a settlement in the earlier case. In addition to the two teachers, the school's two co-leaders were placed on leave at the start of the current school year.
I have secured the services of the law firm Hinckley Allen to do a top-to-bottom investigation into the additional complaints, management, and practices at Mission Hill Pilot School. That investigation has now started and I expect it will continue into the winter, though we’ve asked them to be thorough and deliberate and not to compromise quality for speed.
In addition, I have commissioned an Emergency School Review for the Mission Hill school. The Emergency School Review will be a more focused and quickened version of a traditional School Quality Review (SQR).
She adds she has assigned a number of two BPS specialists to the school immediately and is reviewing all of the individual plans set up for special-needs students at the school.
However, Linda Nathan, who helped found the school as a semi-autonomous pilot school under then Superintendent Thomas Payzant, writes the school needs replacements for the four suspended teachers and that it also needs to maintain its innovative teaching model, in which even students have a say in curriculum and teachers collaboratively set working conditions:
Parents are urging the district to honor Mission Hill’s autonomies and hire appropriate staff so that the school can remain viable and our students’ needs can be met. The district has chosen to remove autonomies and not replace staff who were put on leave using events under investigation as an excuse to further weaken our school.
It is entirely possible that BPS has used an incident to eliminate the Mission Hill that the founders had in mind.
The school may now be seen as a threat to the district’s view of how much independence a single school should have.