Boston school system launches outdoor investigation into allegations of emotional manipulation of students
The allegations have stunned educators, school advocates and the nonprofit world in Boston since they surfaced publicly last week. Youth on Board and its founder Jenny Sazama have led the student government group for years, and the student group has been very active on a number of key issues, from lobbying the state legislature for school funding to developing an app that lets students know their rights.
“The partnership with Youth on Board and work with all YOB staff are on hold pending an outside investigation,” the school system said in a statement.
Several students have left the student advisory group in recent days to oppose the counseling sessions; they also accused Sazama of stifling their voices by heavily editing their public statements and setting the group’s political agenda for them. They said Sazama and other staff pressured the students to attend the counseling sessions, which Sazama denies.
Other students who have remained with the advisory board have also expressed concerns about the counseling sessions, but say they hope to reform the group from within.
The students described the sessions as extremely moving. Overseen by Sazama and the association’s young adult leaders, the teens were encouraged to share personal information and cry, students said at a press conference last weekend. Some regretted the information they shared and worried whether it would be kept confidential, students said. The sessions took place several times a month.
Khymani James, the student representative of the Boston school committee who resigned last week, said he was “happy to hear that BPS is taking the necessary steps and hopes it does not end there.”
“BPS, like everyone else, needs to understand that it’s never just about the partnership of YOB and the cult (reassessment counseling),” said James, a Boston Latin Senior of the Academy who was also a member of the Student Advisory Council but also resigned from this group. “It is also about stifling the voice of the students, and it must stop when the adults are ready to give up almost all of their power to the young people and give it to them. “
Sazama stressed in statements to media that the counseling sessions were voluntary and aimed to provide “emotional support to students through supportive listening.” Students were never forced to attend or paid for it, she said.
“The course was not a re-assessment co-counseling course and the participants were not part of the RC,” she said in a previous statement. “Over the past year, the program has aired on Zoom, not in person. The purpose of Wellness Wednesdays is peer support among students. There is no other goal, and BSAC and Youth on Board staff regret if there has been any other impact.
Boston public schools have known about counseling sessions for years. It included information about them on an application that parents must sign for their children to participate and informed them that it was based on reassessment advice. The school system downplayed the importance of Monday night peer counseling sessions.
“The peer support group is an optional resource that has been made available to BSAC students through the Youth on Board partnership since approximately 2006,” the statement said. “Although the peer support group model is loosely based on reassessment counseling (CR) theory and practice, it is not CR. The peer support group is grounded in restorative justice and socio-emotional learning practices. In its basic form, the practice simply consists of two people taking turns listening to each other and is not clinical advice.
Sam Draisen, a Boston Latin Academy student who remains on the advisory board, said school district officials briefed students on their actions on Monday evening.
“It’s good that the district is putting this partnership on hold, but it can’t be the last step,” he said. “Now we need to focus on reform and find a new tax partner to deliver the services the district cannot handle. There are many good adult staff members employed by YOB, and they are very important and should always be part of BSAC.
Charlene Adames-Pimentel, a senior at Boston Latin Academy who was among several students who raised concerns over the past week about counseling sessions, said she was happy the school system ended practice and suspended its relationship with the nonprofit organization. But she wonders why the school officials did not act sooner.
“I would like them to apply this quick energy to other structures and situations” that are problematic within the neighborhood, she said. “It’s all part of this racist and adultist structure in which BPS has played a role. “