Thursday, June 10, 2021

May Flower: Globe Guidance Counselor

You can now meet with them after the kids have been ordered back to class amid concern about upticks in coronavirus cases among teenagers and children, who are still largely unvaccinated, but state officials stress the risk of transmission is low in schools because of safety standards, which include mask mandates and a minimum of 3 feet of social distancing in classrooms, and surveillance testing indicates less than 1 percent of students attending in person have been positive for COVID-19 while state officials are strongly encouraging high school students who are eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations to get their shots although schools, however, must continue to offer a remote-only option for students whose parents prefer to keep them at home with the state adding some mandates to ensure students at home are safe and academically engaged, such as requiring districts to include a daily visual “live check-in,” and unlike Massachusetts and New Hampshire, Maine has deferred to its school boards and the principle of local control, pointing to the unpredictability of COVID-19 and logistical problems in keeping students (and teachers) safe.

"Boston superintendent announces changes after investigation finds students pressured into unlicensed counseling" by Naomi Martin Globe Staff, May 24, 2021

Boston schools Superintendent Brenda Cassellius said Monday she has ended the district’s relationship with a nonprofit program that ran a prestigious student advisory group for two decades, following an independent investigation that showed students felt the director stifled their voices, emotionally manipulated them, and pushed them to attend inappropriate group counseling sessions.

Cassellius said the system is ending its relationship with a group called Youth On Board, whose founder had practiced an unorthodox type of group therapy called Re-evaluation Counseling, or “RC,” which students described as a cult. RC, which is both a type of group counseling and an international organization that practices and promotes it, encourages people to relate difficult experiences and release emotions by crying, screaming, or laughing.

The 10-page report, released Monday, confirmed many of the allegations made during a news conference in March by six students, including the then-student representative of the Boston School Committee, who resigned in protest from the Boston Student Advisory Council. The students said that Jenny Sazama, the adult co-director of the council, censored their policy positions and pressured them into attending Re-evaluation Counseling.

The investigator, Alan Oliff, a former Weston schools superintendent now working for private Jewish schools, took no position on RC’s therapeutic techniques and did not explore the “cult” allegation, but his report said students described RC in interviews as “weird, uncomfortable, cult-like,” and its implementation, he wrote, “without any qualified counseling personnel and no apparent oversight has been a problem.”

Following the report, which recommended that any counseling program be thoroughly vetted and run by qualified counselors, Cassellius nixed RC and said from now on Boston’s school system would only use licensed psychologists and social workers to provide mental health services.

“I just am very troubled by these findings,” Cassellius told The Boston Globe. “Students felt uncomfortable, they felt they were manipulated and were paid to participate — that’s what’s troubling to me, regardless of the type of program, that’s inappropriate. That’s why we dealt with this swiftly.”

[Looked like a good life lesson actually, what with the stifled voices and emotional manipulation and all. It prepares them to read a Globe every morning]

The head of RC, Tim Jackins, has denied that the organization is at all cult-like.

Cassellius said she would also implement yearly evaluations and student surveys to monitor the student advisory council, switching its organizational structure to fall under a newly created chief of student support. She said her staff was collaborating with students to rewrite the council’s bylaws for a full restructuring. The council advises the superintendent and School Committee on education policies.

Khymani James, the School Committee member who resigned in protest over the counseling sessions, did not personally attend the sessions but said he spoke out on behalf of students who did. He said Monday he was pleased the investigation had helped uncover the truth of the matter.

[That's a first!]

“What happened to people’s children was absolutely unacceptable and must unequivocally be condemned by BPS,” he said.

Both Cassellius and her top chief overseeing the program, Monica Roberts, said they didn’t know that the RC sessions took place in Sazama’s home, which Cassellius said is not typically permitted. (During the pandemic they took place virtually.)

Cassellius and Roberts also said they weren’t aware of the extent that RC was used with the students or that students felt uncomfortable in the RC sessions.

That surprised council member Tiffany Luo, 17, a junior at Boston Latin School, who said the district should have kept a closer eye on what Sazama was doing with students.

“They should have known because RC is a thing that’s been going on for many years,” Luo said, noting that students discussed in presentations with district officials how RC helped lay a foundation for some projects. “It’s not like other BPS people didn’t know about it.’'

Sazama, in a statement, said the partnership of the nonprofit program she led, Youth on Board, with Boston Public Schools was “highly successful and nationally recognized for more than two decades.”

“It’s unfortunate to see it come to an end under these circumstances,” Sazama said in a statement, adding that she hopes Boston students continue to have a voice in how their schools are governed. “I have spent my career fighting alongside them for their right to be heard.”

Youth on Board is a program of Youth Build USA. Monday, Youth Build USA issued a statement, saying it cooperated with the investigation and that it understands the school system’s decision to end the partnership. It said Youth on Board operated separately from Youth Build USA.

The school district employee who co-directed the program with Sazama, Maria Estrada, previously attended RC, but reported that she hadn’t in several years because she assumed Sazama was managing the sessions responsibly, the report said.

Estrada no longer oversees the council, though she is still employed by the district pending an internal investigation, Cassellius said. Estrada didn’t return a message seeking comment.

All the students and junior staffers Oliff interviewed raised concerns about Sazama’s leadership and RC, which Sazama hassled students to participate in, Oliff wrote.

He noted that students reported Sazama cajoled them to attend the sessions through text messages at all hours of the night, leading some to turn their phones off, and she asked other people to pressure a student to attend RC too. The program was optional in recent years but students often felt they had to attend.

[Now go get your shot and win a prize!]

She would also often bring up confidential details they’d shared later, sometimes in front of others, students told Oliff.

“[I]t was common for Jenny to ask a student to do additional work and use personal issues they had raised as reminders about how this would be a good thing for them given their challenges,” Oliff wrote, citing students’ statements in which they said Sazama’s reminders were “incessant and uncomfortable.”

Prior to the investigation, school district officials claimed the sessions weren’t really RC but a modified version, but the report makes clear that it was “always” called RC by Sazama, staffers, and students, and was identified as “Peer Counseling/ RC” on the council’s agenda.

Students told Oliff parents did not grant their permission for participation in RC regularly over the years, and it was only recently added to the overall council permission slip, at the very end.

“Clearly it is not identified as an important area to review, given its location on the slip,” the author noted.

The report also raised concerns about Sazama’s handling of finances. Multiple people told the investigator they were concerned about Sazama’s spending on “gifts, personal purchases, and regular use of a ‘petty cash’ fund,” according to the report. Oliff recommended the district and Youth on Board review any funds it provided to Sazama. Roberts said the district only gave Youth on Board a tiny fraction of its revenue — less than $10,000 this year, according to the district.

The report, which misspelled Sazama’s name as “Szama,” acknowledged some limitations. The investigator interviewed 23 people, including students, junior staff, alumni, parents, and district employees, but he said he only had one hour for each, so it was “not possible” to hear all the information that “interviewees wanted to share.”

Cassellius vowed to prioritize students’ voices going forward. James, the former student representative on the School Committee, said the council needs to be fully reconfigured to “prevent something like this from happening again.”

DA Rollins says she was disturbed by the reports about unlicensed counseling of Boston students, and has reconsidered criminal charges against them now that she has seen the light.

"Inside the unlicensed counseling that led Boston students to allege emotional abuse; Boston Public Schools allowed students to be subjected to unorthodox group therapy for years" by Naomi Martin, James Vaznis and Laura Crimaldi Globe Staff, May 26, 2021

As a Boston high school sophomore, Keondre McClay said he was pressured by the head of a district-sponsored youth advocacy program to attend an overnight retreat in Newton, where white adults asked the Black teenager to wrestle out his emotions on a gym mat with them. They said it would help him purge his trauma from experiencing racism.

McClay fled to his room. Jenny Sazama, the program leader, and other retreat participants chased after him. For more than an hour, he recalled recently, they hugged him on his bed and entreated him to return to the group “counseling” session while he hid under the covers screaming, “Please leave me alone!”

When they eventually left, he locked the door, but someone got the facilities manager to unlock it. McClay called someone to help him get home at midnight.

“I was, for lack of a better word, assaulted,” said McClay, now 21, a former student representative to the Boston School Committee.

[How the hell are we ever going to win any wars with these snowflakes flying around?]

The retreat was part of an unorthodox brand of group therapy Sazama introduced to the Boston Student Advisory Council, a prestigious student government group that advises the superintendent and School Committee on education policy. In a report released by the school department Monday, an independent investigator wrote that students described the “Re-Evaluation Counseling” sessions as “weird, uncomfortable, and cult-like,” but the report barely scratched the surface of students’ experiences.

In “RC,” students were encouraged to share intensely personal information in a group, and to cry, yell, or scream, with no professional follow-up. Twice-monthly sessions took place in the basement of Sazama’s home in Jamaica Plain, but the teens also participated in RC gatherings, like the one McClay attended, with adult strangers.

[So do I]

The sessions continued for at least 15 years, with little oversight by the Boston Public Schools, which hired Sazama as an outside contractor to run the council. Sazama, who holds no credentials to provide mental health care, is a lifelong devotee of RC and a leader in the international organization that promotes it.

RC has crept into progressive circles here and around the country. Its founder briefly collaborated with Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard in the 1950s, and its core philosophy, which bears some similarities to Hubbard’s Dianetics, prescribes regularly relating painful memories to a peer counselor or group and releasing strong feelings by crying, shaking, or screaming as the best salve for psychological wounds.

More than a dozen current and former student advisory council members and staffers interviewed by the Globe described the sessions as inappropriate and disturbing. A number said Sazama actively discouraged them from seeking more traditional forms of professional mental health care, including psychiatric medication, which RC leaders regard with suspicion.

“There is no such thing as a psychological ‘disorder,’” Sazama wrote in 2006, in one of her voluminous postings to the RC website, echoing the group’s position. “The ‘disorders’ are made-up names that describe distresses, and their purpose is to sell drugs for profit.”

[Hey, watch your tongue!]

The students said Sazama manipulated them, using her knowledge of their personal issues to get them to attend meetings and, at times, regional RC gatherings with adults from outside the school district, without fully informing their parents. McClay said Sazama even occasionally paid his cellphone bill to get him to attend these retreats.

Students said Sazama often blurred boundaries by sharing her own struggles to a degree that made some students uneasy, and they described the counseling sessions as traumatic.

“How could any wellness be occurring if people are constantly crying and we’re constantly talking about trauma?” said Charlene Adames-Pimentel, a senior at Boston Latin Academy.

Through the years, some council members who participated in RC found it a positive experience, a chance to vent and bond with Sazama and other students in a school district where guidance counselors and psychologists are in short supply, but many others chafed. For leaders of the student advisory council, participation was mandatory at times, according to e-mails obtained by the Globe, but even when it became voluntary, students said, they felt Sazama leaned on them to attend. They described an uncomfortable power dynamic: Some students were paid up to 10 hours a week for their youth advocacy work, and some felt they needed to attend RC to accumulate enough hours to get their full paycheck. Sazama has denied students were paid for attending RC.

At least one staffer raised concerns about RC a decade ago to Sazama and her co-director Maria Estrada, a BPS employee, but the counseling continued much as before.

That changed in March, when six students, including the group’s representative on the Boston School Committee, Khymani James, abruptly resigned and, in an explosive news conference, called the counseling sessions emotional abuse and accused Sazama of recruiting students into her RC “cult.” (James didn’t attend RC but said he was advocating for students who did.)

Several past superintendents and School Committee members said they were stunned to hear the students’ criticism of Sazama, who they considered a caring champion of young people, and said they had never heard of RC.

Sazama declined to comment for this story, but she previously defended her handling of the counseling sessions, saying that “no student was ever compelled in any way to attend.” In a statement Monday, Sazama said her nonprofit’s work with Boston students had been nationally recognized for two decades.

“It’s unfortunate to see it come to an end under these circumstances,” her statement said. “I hope that the students of Boston will continue to have a voice in how the schools are governed.”

In response to the students’ allegations this spring, Boston Public Schools commissioned an outside investigation. After the investigator’s report was released Monday, Superintendent Brenda Cassellius severed ties with the youth advocacy program Sazama had been running, Youth on Board, part of the nonprofit YouthBuild USA. Cassellius said she was “very troubled” by the report’s findings and said the school department, going forward, would use only licensed providers for mental health services.

The school department, however, appears to have made little effort to oversee the program until now. It had no written contract with Youth on Board and did not direct any of its licensed mental health counselors to monitor the counseling sessions. School officials said they relied on student surveys to evaluate the program, but recent surveys didn’t ask students about it.

Estrada, the BPS employee overseeing the student advisory council, also briefly worked for Sazama at Youth on Board, according to the nonprofit, raising questions about whether she was well positioned to protect students. Estrada could not be reached for comment.

Cassellius and her top chief overseeing the program, Monica Roberts, said Monday they weren’t previously aware of the extent RC was used in the peer counseling sessions, but e-mails obtained by the Globe show previous district leaders were aware of the RC program in 2011. Estrada and her then-boss, assistant superintendent Michele Brooks, repeatedly e-mailed about RC and discussed Brooks attending a counseling session; it’s unclear whether she did. Brooks couldn’t be reached for comment.

After the controversy erupted this spring, the school department tried downplaying students’ concerns, saying the counseling sessions were only “loosely based” on RC, or “not RC,” yet the district asked parents to sign permission slips for counseling “based in the theory and practice of Re-Evaluation Counseling,” with a link to the RC website. The district said no students previously complained about RC.

Sazama has left Youth on Board, according to YouthBuild USA, which conducted its own investigation.

McClay now serves as Youth on Board’s external relations manager; he said he kept working for Sazama despite his painful experiences on the council because of his commitment to the students and their work, but he said he never attended RC again.

The Boston Public Schools hired Youth on Board two decades ago to help revitalize the student advisory council, whose members, from high schools across Boston, advise the School Committee, City Council, and the mayor on education policy.

Under Sazama’s leadership, the council became a powerful force with a long trail of press coverage, racking up policy victories on homework loads, school tardiness, and teacher evaluations, and securing public transit passes for all high schoolers, but the group’s RC sessions were rarely, if ever, publicly discussed.

RC has taken root in Boston and nationwide among pockets of progressive activists, who view it as a vehicle for social change. Adherents see the cathartic release of emotion, or “discharge,” as a remedy for healing both personal distress and societal trauma. If enough people and organizations discharged regularly, the thinking goes, the world could end oppression and environmental destruction. That’s why its members often try to recruit others. It’s also why RC theory regards psychiatric drugs as toxic — they interfere with emotional release, but RC’s emphasis on displaying emotions before an audience, which psychology researchers say increases susceptibility to manipulation, has led critics to deride it as cult-like.

[Now we $ee the REAL REA$ON that RC must be removed! Not the silly Marxist regimentation but their stance against the cult-like following of Big Pharma and its lying pre$$titutes!]

The group also has a troubled history; in the 1980s, multiple women accused RC founder Harvey Jackins of sexually exploiting them during counseling sessions, according to published news reports and former RC members. (Jackins denied the sexual misconduct allegations at the time.) It also used to counsel against homosexuality, former members said.

RC’s critics say it has no place in public schools and could harm students who feel pressured to participate or burdened by peers’ psychological suffering. Steven Hassan, a Newton-based licensed mental health counselor and cult expert, considers RC a splinter group of Dianetics and a cult.

[As much as unnecessary and criminal lockdowns based on lies?]

“This is not a healthy group,” said Hassan, who has counseled ex-RC members. “It is not something any student or school system should be involved with.”

Tim Jackins, the founder’s son and longtime head of RC, calls the cult allegation “a cheap jab to get people scared.” He said the organization has helped tens of thousands of people, including youths, lead better lives.

“It’s the idea of getting freer and freer from the restrictions that getting hurt has put on you,” he said.

Sazama, who grew up in the RC community, met Harvey Jackins when she was about 12 years old, and developed a close bond with him, according to her statements on RC’s website.

Since she was young, Sazama has held leadership roles in the RC organization centered on youth engagement; her e-mail signature read “ILRP for allies to young people,” short for “international liberation reference person.”

Her decades of work with RC are extensively documented on the group’s website. It’s not clear if Boston school officials ever read her writings or researched RC, but one of Sazama’s former employers, Teen Empowerment in the South End, grew uncomfortable with Sazama doing RC with youth in the mid-1990s. She left after a year.

“Her focus was on RC, and our focus was different,” said Stanley Pollack, executive director of Teen Empowerment.

Pollack said Sazama was upfront about her RC work there, but elsewhere she was more discreet. In the early 1990s, she introduced what the RC website calls “naturalized RC” to teenagers in a low-income housing development in the South End — conducting group therapy sessions without calling it RC, she wrote.

In this way, RC has quietly embedded itself in universities and organizations, including groups devoted to progressive Judaism, Black women’s health, and national coalition-building, said Beryl Satter, a Rutgers University history professor who has researched RC.

“It’s a chameleon,” Satter said. Proponents, she said, “see it as . . . ‘Instead of facing the resistance we would if we were straightforward, let’s just get in there and do it, and then they’ll love it.’”

In introducing RC, several students and former staffers said, Sazama would explain that they’d all been conditioned from infancy to suppress their emotions: When they cried as babies, their parents stuck pacifiers and bottles in their mouths. RC was a way of letting go of those harmful societal pressures, Sazama would say.

She would open a typical session by inviting students to respond in a group setting to a general question or topic, such as addiction. Next they’d pair up, take turns listening to one another speak for about five minutes each, and then share with the group. Sazama would often instruct students, as they became upset, to cry, yell, scream into a pillow, punch a pillow, laugh, or shake.

“Crying was something she really wanted to get out of us,” said Wellington Matos, a junior at Fenway High School.

[Probably got her jollies out of it]

Often, Sazama asked probing questions or demonstrated a counseling session with a student. She also shared and “discharged” about her own challenges, said Justine Dessalines, a junior at TechBoston Academy.

Some former BSAC members embraced it. Amel Ahmed, who graduated from Monument High School in 2010, said the peer counseling helped resolve conflicts among members, and it helped them cope with frustration and anger after public officials refused to change policies the students considered racist, such as forcing students to go through metal detectors — the epitome, students felt, of treating Black and Latino students like prisoners.

“It was a life-changing experience for me to be in BSAC and be introduced to peer counseling, learning how to express myself,” said Ahmed, who serves on Youth on Board’s advisory board. “I understand that not everyone is comfortable sharing their feelings.”

Dan Chu, a BSAC member from 2009 to 2013 and a former student representative on the School Committee, said he was initially skeptical of RC but eventually found it helpful, especially in coping with his disappointment in not getting into his top college choices, and, Chu said, Sazama went out of her way to help students, but other students said they went to the sessions reluctantly and felt Sazama pressured students to attend by pointing to stressors she knew they were experiencing as a reason they should “discharge.”

Sazama often warned that mental health professionals and psychiatric drug manufacturers prioritized profits over care, students said, and shared frightening anecdotes.

“I was scared I was going to be put in a mental health facility, and they were going to inject me with drugs,” said Tiffany Luo, 17, a Boston Latin School junior, who hesitated to try therapy because of Sazama’s stories.

One woman, now in her late 20s, said at Sazama’s urging, she attended regional RC weekend retreats, where she shared her secrets with adults she didn’t know, something she now regrets.

“I think about the sessions and I feel gross,” she said.

She recalled getting throbbing migraines while listening to people’s traumas, but Sazama and other RC members assured her that the headaches were a good sign, and that she shouldn’t take any over-the-counter pain medication: Her body was “discharging” her trauma.

“In retrospect, I should have seen a licensed therapist,” she said. She didn’t think to seek one out for her anxiety and depression: Sazama said she just needed more RC sessions.

The racial dynamics of the RC retreats were also troubling to some students.

Luo, a Chinese immigrant, and Matos, who is Black and Latino, said Sazama pressed them in January to attend a statewide RC event on Zoom supposedly for young people of color, only to find a sea of white faces. Someone prompted Luo to speak before she felt comfortable. Matos quickly clicked out of the meeting, fearing he’d be next.

“It felt like I’m a zoo animal presented as a show to them, because I’m being forced to talk about my experience with racism, rather than me wanting to myself,” Luo said.

A decade ago, a 23-year-old staffer, Margaret Fiori, urged Sazama and the BPS co-director, Estrada, to rethink RC after a session in which Sazama prodded a reluctant girl to describe to the group how she was coping with a sexual assault.

“I think that you two should not pressure people to talk because of the power-structure,” Fiori wrote in a follow-up e-mail. “Regardless of how close staff and [students] may feel to you, you are still our employers.”

Estrada defended requiring students to attend RC, according to an e-mail obtained by the Globe, saying, “The benefits outweighs [sic] the concerns most have about it,” but Sazama agreed staff no longer had to attend, and shortly after, it became optional for students.

Chu said Sazama was OK with his decision to stop attending RC, but other students felt Sazama goaded them in cajoling texts or in conversation, and financial pressure loomed, some students said. Danyael Morales, a ninth grader at Boston Latin Academy this year, felt he needed to attend RC to log six hours weekly working on council activities for his paid internship with BPS’s equity office.

Morales’s mother worried what this taught students about workplace boundaries.

“I don’t have to share anything like that [with] my supervisor about my feelings,” Angelina Morales said. “I do my job and I call it a day.”

Jeff Foulkes, a former staffer, now 36, said he wishes the staff had worked harder to sound alarms a decade ago.

“Now that I have a lot more experience in the field, and have run similar programs, it feels wildly more inappropriate than I even understood at the time,” he said. “It’s incredibly irresponsible.”

This spring, amid a unique convergence of tensions, students decided they’d had enough.

They had been meeting on Zoom throughout the pandemic, holding RC sessions online. A dozen or so new students had joined; many didn’t know one another and found RC absurd.

“Why am I yelling into a pillow in front of a screen?” said Adames-Pimentel. “That’s so weird — I don’t even turn my camera on for class.”

Meanwhile, the students were fired up to fight racial injustices following George Floyd’s murder and ensuing protests. They wanted to hold district leaders accountable for what they felt were inadequate efforts to help Black and brown students.

Their revolutionary mindset collided with Sazama’s and Estrada’s more diplomatic approach to advocacy. Increasingly frustrated by what they saw as the adults’ efforts to soften students’ criticism of district leaders, the students balked.

The council president, Katio Barbosa, a senior at Jeremiah Burke High School, clashed with Sazama over his request to dedicate the council’s March 4 meeting to discussing a school mental health program.

“Katio, I didn’t sleep last night again and I woke up wondering if I should say this to you,” Sazama replied in a text. “But we were both crying last night and that happens regularly and it’s not your fault or anyone’s fault but there is so much pressure on us you can’t even imagine.”

Her program faced financial woes and two people in her life had tried to kill themselves, she added.

Barbosa replied, “The fact that you felt comfortable enough to push all of that on me to shut me down made me feel disrespected.”

After a tumultuous, student-only Zoom meeting where council members swapped stories about RC and Sazama, about a half-dozen students decided to resign and air their grievances publicly.

Students say they hope, as they rebuild the council, the program will continue to include emotional support. They could use help, they said, processing the trauma in their lives and the bigotry they encounter in their activism, but they want professional therapists.

“RC was a really important outlet for a lot of people — that’s what kept a lot of us attached to it even though there was a lot of weird stuff about it,” Matos said. “A therapeutic place in general is something we want, but RC’s what we had.”

Here is a book to read as we inch along:

"Boston schools superintendent Cassellius expands investigation into unlicensed counseling sessions" by Laura Crimaldi, Naomi Martin and James Vaznis Globe Staff, May 27, 2021

The Boston Public Schools system announced Thursday that it is broadening the investigation into an outside contractor’s use of an unorthodox brand of group therapy with a prestigious group of student leaders, citing “deeply painful stories” detailed this week by the Globe.

Superintendent Brenda Cassellius met Thursday evening with members of the Boston Student Advisory Council, the student government group exposed to the therapy. She also said she had placed the BPS employee who codirected the student organization on administrative leave.

“I was saddened and angered reading the deeply painful stories shared by current and former students in the press this morning. I will not tolerate any situation where any student feels they were mistreated or unheard,” Cassellius said in a statement.

The statement included a series of steps meant to tighten oversight of programming provided by outside partners of the district.

“The issues raised by students, the investigation conducted by BPS, and the stories recounted in the media clearly show that we need to look even deeper to fully understand the size and scope of the concerns expressed by members of the Boston Student Advisory Council,” Cassellius said.

Separately, Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins said she has initiated discussions with her leadership team about the incidents described in the Globe story.

“We are going to look into anything that potentially happened in Suffolk County,” Rollins said Thursday during an unrelated news conference.

On Thursday, the Globe reported that the district’s contractor Youth on Board, and its leader, Jenny Sazama, used Re-Evaluation Counseling with the advisory council, encouraging them to share personal information in a group, and to “discharge” their emotions by crying, yelling, or screaming, with no professional follow-up. Twice-monthly “RC” sessions took place in the basement of Sazama’s home in Jamaica Plain, but some of the teens also participated in regional RC gatherings with adult strangers.

Sazama has been a practitioner of Re-Evaluation Counseling since her youth and a longtime leader in the international RC organization. She has no credentials to provide mental health care.

Sazama subjected leaders of the student advisory council, which advises the superintendent and school committee on education policy, to RC for at least 15 years. The sessions came to an end only after six BSAC members abruptly resigned in March and accused Sazama at a news conference of emotionally manipulating students and recruiting students into her RC “cult.”

One former student, Keondre McClay, who is Black, told the Globe that when he was a sophomore he fled from a session during an overnight RC retreat in Newton after white adults asked him to wrestle out his emotions with them, saying it would help him purge his trauma from experiencing racism. Sazama and other retreat participants followed him to his room, said McClay, now 21, and hugged him on his bed as they urged him to return group “counseling.”

Sazama did not respond to a request for comment, but she previously defended her handling of the counseling sessions, saying that no student was ever compelled to attend, and that her nonprofit’s work with Boston students had been nationally recognized.

In a report released by the school department Monday, an independent investigator wrote that students described the RC sessions as “weird, uncomfortable, and cult-like.” In releasing the report, Cassellius also announced she was ending the district’s relationship with Youth on Board. Sazama cofounded Youth on Board, but left the organization this year after students spoke out against her leadership.

Some found the district’s initial investigation inadequate, and said the system didn’t do enough to reach out to affected students.

“Everyone makes mistakes but this is a mistake that ended up almost destroying lives,” said Xyra Mercer, 17, a junior at the Henderson Inclusion School and BSAC’s representative to the Boston School Committee. “It cost some of them their mental sanity, it cost them emotional safety, it cost a lot that should’ve never been taken away from students.”

Cassellius said a new independent investigator would interview a larger number of students, families, alumni, and staff. She also announced that Maria Estrada, a BPS employee who oversees the council, has been placed on administrative leave pending an investigation.

Sazama and Estrada didn’t respond Thursday to requests for comment.

Cassellius’s statement also outlined plans to create new “risk management and compliance oversight protocols” and review all the district’s partnerships, and she said the district would continue offering students licensed counseling.

Tanisha Sullivan, president of the NAACP’s Boston branch, said the group is pleased the district appeared to be taking action. “We need to make sure students who were in these sessions get the licensed mental health support they need,” she said.

Speaking at an unrelated news conference before Cassellius’s announcement, Acting Mayor Kim Janey thanked her for opening the initial investigation and putting an end to unlicensed counseling.

“We obviously want to make sure that our young people feel safe, that they are being supported, and that any counseling happens by licensed professionals,” said Janey.

Boston City Councilors Ricardo Arroyo, Andrea Campbell, Annissa Essaibi George, Julia Mejia, and Michelle Wu also expressed concerns about the students’ experiences with RC.

In a statement, Attorney General Maura Healey called the Globe’s report “disturbing” and expressed support for BPS’s decision to cut ties with Youth on Board.

“It’s critical, for the health and safety of our students, that those providing mental health supports in our public schools are properly vetted and licensed,” she said.

Youth on Board, however, remains popular with some involved with the council. On Wednesday, a BPS student, a parent, and two graduates who work for Youth on Board told the School Committee that they oppose Cassellius’s decision to cut ties with the organization.

“Ruining the partnership looks good for the public, as it seems to be getting rid of the core problem but, in reality, we have been isolated without the support we needed from the junior staff,” said Tiffany Luo, 17, a junior at Boston Latin School. “We’ve been ripped away from what many of us students considered older siblings and mentors.”

Harneen Chernow, a parent of a council member and a former state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education member, grew emotional as she testified before the School Committee about what the students experienced.

“Ultimately BPS needs to be held accountable for this travesty,” Chernow said. “I don’t have an answer for what that looks like, or how you can make these young people whole. . . . There is a lot of pain, and it is far from over.”

[I'll give you one guess where]

The kids want blood:

"Student leaders call on Boston superintendent Cassellius to resign over handling of complaints of unlicensed counseling" by Naomi Martin Globe Staff, June 1, 2021

Four Boston high school students on Tuesday called for Boston Superintendent Brenda Cassellius to resign over her handling of revelations that student leaders were subjected to an inappropriate form of group therapy.

The students, speaking at a news conference at the Boston Public Schools’ Roxbury headquarters, said Acting Mayor Kim Janey should fire Cassellius if she doesn’t step down because she didn’t adequately respond to students’ complaints that adult leaders subjected students on the Boston Student Advisory Council to “Re-evaluation Counseling,” or RC.

[She going to get the Denny White treatment?]

“Brenda Cassellius played an active role in downplaying the abuse that occurred while continuing to stifle the voices of students,” said Khymani James, a former student representative on the Boston School Committee.

RC is both an unorthodox brand of group counseling and an international organization that promotes it.

An independent investigation into the counseling sessions commissioned by Cassellius this spring after James and other students on the council resigned in protest showed students felt the council’s codirector, Jenny Sazama, muffled their voices, emotionally manipulated them, and pushed them to attend RC sessions in the basement of her Jamaica Plain home.

Following a Globe investigation published last week, Cassellius ordered an expanded investigation and, pending its outcome, placed a school department employee who supervised the council on administrative leave. Cassellius had already ended the district’s partnership with Youth on Board, the nonprofit program that Sazama cofounded.

Cassellius also promised a top-to-bottom review of the school department’s outside partnerships and new protocols to regularly review programming provided by partners. Additionally, she said the department would hire new staff to provide more oversight and establish better risk-management practices.

“I will not tolerate any situation where any student feels they were mistreated or unheard,“ Cassellius, who has been superintendent for nearly two years, said last week. Her office declined to offer any additional comment on Tuesday.

At Tuesday’s news conference, several community members — including Black Teachers Matter president Sharon Hinton; a District 4 City Council candidate, the Rev. Jacob Ureña; and at-large council candidate Domingos DaRosa — joined the students in calling for accountability, though the adults stopped short of demanding Cassellius’s resignation.....


"For months, many students weren’t ready to share their experiences in a controversial form of group therapy that was part of their prestigious student council, but on Monday a group of eight students held a news conference detailing abuse they said they suffered in those sessions, which they called a required part of the Boston Student Advisory Council that they and their parents didn’t always fully consent to participate in. They demanded Boston Public Schools be held accountable. “Even saying this out loud today makes my skin crawl,” said Josiehanna Colon, a junior at New Mission High School, as she recalled attending the “Re-evaluation Counseling” sessions in the Jamaica Plain basement of Jenny Sazama, a nonprofit program cofounder hired by Boston Public Schools to help run the council. Re-Evaluation Counseling, or RC, is both an unorthodox brand of group counseling and an international organization that promotes it. RC encourages participants to relate difficult experiences to another person or group and “discharge” their emotions by crying, screaming, or laughing. That emotional release is seen as key to psychological health....."

Looks like she has some work to do with the school committee:

Sick of Westie whites,” Lorna Rivera texted, referring to the Boston West Roxbury neighborhood, according to a transcript. Rivera is a professor of women’s studies at the University of Massachusetts Boston and Latina. She resigned her position on the committee Friday after the texts she sent during the October meeting were about to be made public. “Wait until the white racists start yelling at us,” Rivera texted at another moment. “Whatever. They’re delusional,” replied Chairwoman Alexandra Oliver-Dávila....."

That is the kind of contempt they have for you behind their false faces!

"Alexandra Oliver-Dávila, chair of the Boston School Committee, has resigned from the board, city officials announced Tuesday, following a public uproar over text messages she sent during a meeting last fall disparaging West Roxbury families. The texts, which were made public Monday, had quickly ignited the campaign trail, with a growing number of candidates for mayor and City Council calling for her ouster on Monday and Tuesday. As it turned out, Oliver-Dávila had quietly resigned Monday, although city officials did not make her decision public until Tuesday afternoon. In a statement, Oliver-Dávila apologized for the comments she made and “the hurt they have caused.” She had been exchanging texts with Lorna Rivera, who resigned from the School Committee last week. “I regret my personal texts, it was inappropriate, but I am not ashamed of the feelings from history that made me write those words,” said Oliver-Dávila, who is of Argentinian and Nicaraguan descent and recalled being taunted as a child by her classmates in West Roxbury. “My lived experience of growing up fearing people from certain neighborhoods, the neighborhood I lived in, is real and is what helped shape who I am today.” 

That's a non-apology apology as the contemptible creature uses the I experienced racism so I can be racist argument.

It's insane, but that's where we are.


Time to close this post out after your graduation (unless you were held back):

"Graduation speakers face a bigger challenge this year" by Gal Tziperman Lotan Globe Staff, May 18, 2021

Picture a stadium full of students clad in caps and gowns, staring expectantly at a stage where a best-selling author, a well-respected artist, or an enterprising CEO impart knowledge that will propel graduates into their professional lives with wisdom and grace.

Now imagine those graduating students have spent the last year immersed in political chaos, economic uncertainty, civil rights struggles, and climate-change fears as they tried to study for finals and send out resumes. What could that commencement speaker say to them? Talk about “these unprecedented times” to a room full of eye-rolls? Serve up platitudes about how hope perseveres?

With commencement season well underway, some keynote speakers have expressed hesitancy over their messages this year. The future — that vast expanse of decades ahead — can feel overwhelming to them, as well.

It’s best to focus on a compelling personal story and encourage graduates to make change where they can, said Mark Castel, president and founder of AEI Speakers Bureau in Allston.

“You want to leave these kids, these young men and women, with something to look forward to, to be uplifting. This is the beginning of your career, you have your whole life ahead of you,” Castel said. “On the smaller scale, how can people improve the little things?”

It's the “the mother of all transitions,” even in a normal year on campus.


If all is normal, potential lawsuits will follow as they target your kids and hijack them.

Also see:

"A local private school teacher has been put on leave after an explosive Huffington Post report this week claimed he had used pen names to write racist and white supremacist articles. Administrators at Star Academy were “shocked by the disturbing social media posts and other publications” allegedly written by teacher Benjamin Welton that a HuffPost reporter shared with the school, directors Larisa Bankovsky and Margarita Druker wrote in an e-mail to the Globe on Thursday. Star Academy is a small private school offering pre-K, kindergarten, elementary school, and middle school classes with campuses in Wellesley and Watertown. In their statement, Bankovsky and Druker said their hiring process includes “in-depth vetting” with reference checks, and criminal and sex offender background checks. Welton began working with Star Academy in August 2020....."