Boston Schools Superintendent Tommy Chang is stepping down two years before the end of his contract after a three-year tenure marked by controversy and a new lawsuit that says the school district has shared student information with federal immigration officials.
Chang, who signed a five-year contract to run the 56,000-student district in 2015, said late Friday that he was negotiating a departure, and he left a farewell message on the district’s website that cited higher graduation and lower suspension rates among his accomplishments.
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh released a statement saying that he and Chang had “mutually agreed” that there should be a change in leadership in the school district and that “significant work” remained to improve Boston schools. He did not mention the lawsuit, though it may have been the final straw for Chang.
Last year, Walsh blamed Chang in part when the Internal Revenue Service found irregularities in an audit of the city’s finances and fined Boston nearly $1 million. Walsh said Chang knew earlier than he did about the findings and did not tell him. In 2016, Chang was accused of botching a proposal to change start times for schools to allow older students to begin later. And the heralded Boston Latin School was accused by U.S. prosecutors of failing to seriously address allegations that students of color were being harassed.
The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice and a coalition of students’ rights groups filed a lawsuit this week against Boston Public Schools in an effort to obtain public records about its practice of sharing student information with federal immigration officials, including U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), through the Boston Regional Intelligence Center. According to the committee, the Massachusetts supervisor of records has ordered the district to disclose the records, but district officials have not done so.
Asked about the lawsuit and the practice of sharing student information with immigration officials, a spokesman for the Boston district said officials would look at the suit when they received it and not comment until then.
Matt Cregor, education project director at the lawyers’ committee, said in an email that it was impossible to know exactly how many school districts are cooperating with ICE. He said in an email that the Boston Regional Intelligence Center is one of dozens of fusion centers that enable information-sharing between local and federal law enforcement agencies. Here’s a state-by-state list of the fusion centers, but it is not clear when and how often school security officials participate, he said.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos recently sparked her own controversy when she said during a hearing before Congress that schools and local communities could decide for themselves whether to alert ICE about undocumented students. After a public backlash, she said in another hearing that she does not think it is legal for teachers and principals to report students to immigration authorities.
Chang said in his farewell address that he had come to the United States as an immigrant from Taiwan 37 years ago and started in public schools without speaking a word of English, but that his teachers helped him succeed. He wrote, “In this moment more than ever, I want every immigrant child to know that’s the country America strives to be, must be, and will be.”
Before coming to Boston in 2015, he was an administrator in the Los Angeles Unified School District, and in 2016, joined Chiefs for Change, a group of current and former school leaders founded by former Florida governor Jeb Bush (R), who was a pioneer in school reform efforts based on using standardized test scores to evaluate students, schools and districts.
Students’ rights groups, with help from the nonprofit Center for Law and Education, had filed to obtain public records of the case of a student at East Boston High School was had been deported based in part on an incident in school that Boston School Police shared with ICE via the Boston Regional Intelligence Agency. According to the lawyers’ committee, the student got caught up in an incident at school in which two students were attempting to start a fight, but it never happened. An “unsubstantiated gang allegation” was used against the student, the committee said.
The Massachusetts supervisor of records agreed that the request for documents should be accepted but that the school district never turned them over, leading to the lawsuit.
“An ‘unsuccessful fight’ should be referred to a principal’s office, not ICE,” Cregor said in a statement.
Here’s the lawsuit: