Friday, June 21, 2024

School Committee member Emily Dexter, seen at a 2016 meeting. (Photo: Ceilidh Yurenka)

School Committee member Emily Dexter said Sunday that she would not take office for a third term.

The action followed a letter to her sent this week by more than 50 school district educators calling for the resignation so students “know that their school leaders have heard and understood their demands for aggressive steps to address racism in our schools.” 

In January, Dexter attended a Cambridge Rindge and Latin School class panel classroom discussion where she used the full “N-word” once in an academic sense, and her apologies afterward were not deemed enough by offended people of color. There was a call for an investigation by fellow School Committee member Manikka Bowman in February, which became a call for a “programmatic review” in April – but that final review caused more dissatisfaction among the community, and calls for Dexter to resign began to increase at a Tuesday meeting of the committee during extensive public comment.

In a letter Sunday, Dexter said it had been an honor to serve on the School Committee for her two terms.

“I’ve appreciated the opportunity to bring attention to critical issues that include chronic absenteeism, troubling differences in math achievement by race and income, low college completion rates for students of color, suspension of kindergarten through second-graders, inadequate classroom staffing, poorly maintained buildings and the disproportionate enrollment of boys of color in special education,” Dexter said. “I care deeply about making progress on these challenges. It is clear, however, that I cannot continue to be effective in my current role.”

“I accept responsibility for my mistakes and I am sorry for the pain they caused. I appreciate that the voters recently gave me a third term. However, I have decided not to serve it, and will not take my seat on the Committee in January,” she said.

Dexter, reached by phone, said she had no comment at this time.

According to data posted on the Cambridge Civics Journal website of local politics watcher Robert Winters, she will be replaced on the committee by candidate David Weinstein. The Election Commission will have to run Dexter’s No. 1 votes again to confirm – a process that last took place in 2009, when Brian Murphy quit the City Council to work for the state and Larry Ward, a challenger in the past election, took his place for the remainder of the term.

Weinstein said Sunday that he had no comment.

Dexter was elected to a third term Nov. 5 with fellow incumbents Bowman and Fred Fantini after committee member Patty Nolan opted for a run for City Council and members Kathleen Kelly and Laurance Kimbrough opted not to run again. Though Mayor Marc McGovern was reelected to the council, it is not certain councillors will reelect him mayor and to return to leadership of the committee – meaning that that while the leaders of the school district were already getting a new three members, now that will be a likely record four new members.

“I am deeply, deeply sad,” Nolan said of Dexter. “I am especially very sorry that the mistakes she made for which she apologized was not something the community forgave her for. And I understand there is a lot of hurt and pain in the community, and that pain is not just about the one mistake Emily made.”

“She has worked very hard, and her actions have shown she is very effective and forceful member of the committee in doing the work of addressing institutional racism. I am sorry she will not be on the School Committee to continue her work,” Nolan said.

While the “N-word” incident was a drag on Dexter’s popularity within the high school – a mock election with 1,000 high school voters failed to reelect her – she won back her actual seat with 3,003 top votes, second only to Bowman’s 3,109 and far above the 2,776 “quota” needed for instant reelection.

Though Bowman has been her prime antagonist on the committee, they shared voters: Winters’ site shows 37 percent of Bowman’s voters opted for Dexter next, while 19 percent of Dexter voters opted for Bowman next.

The committee rejected a report Tuesday on the use of the “N-word” during a high school classroom discussion in January, but only after well over three hours of public comment that ranged widely over a variety of race issues in which black students said they didn’t feel safe at school. Anger at Dexter, the report, the School Committee and the administration were all conflated Tuesday in an onslaught of emotion where students continued to express how isolated and scared they feel at their school – but students were universally critical of Dexter, several accusing her of being racist and demanding that she resign, and at a school meeting this week, a student reportedly asked a panel of principals if they agreed. “Everyone stood up,” according to one observer who captured the moment on Twitter.

A letter was sent Friday to Dexter by district educators including principals, assistant principals, deans and coaches, telling her: “Regardless of your intent, we must all acknowledge that your use of the N-word, compounded by your botched apology to our students, has caused harm that cannot begin to be repaired while you remain in office.”

Nolan noted the lack of attempt by officials at healing in the aftermath of the Jan. 10 classroom panel incident, attempted apology by Dexter on Jan. 17, February motion for an investigation and April motion changing that to a “programmatic review.”

“I am especially disappointed that at no point was there an effort to use restorative justice, despite the fact we teach it in our schools,” Nolan said. “I hold myself accountable for not insisting on it and am at a loss for words why our educators didn’t insist on it.”

This post may be updated.