Mayor Carlo DerMaria sued in federal court by school superintendent Tahiliani

Everett High School students rally for Priya Tahilianiin front of Everett City Hall two weeks ago.(Photo by Joe Resnek)

Allegations of racism, sexism, retaliation

By Leader Staff

A breaking Boston Globe story Tuesday morning revealed that Superintendent of Schools Priya Tahiliani has filed a law suit in Federal District Court accusing the mayor and several school committee members of racism and discrimination after they voted two weeks ago not to renew her contract.

Her contract expires in 2024.

Tahliani and Kim Tsai, a deputy superintendent, accused the mayor and the School Committee of “blatant and overt acts of discrimination and retaliation” because they are women of color, because Tahiliani hired administrators who are non-white, and because the two administrators were participating in a Department of Justice inquiry into Everett’s discriminatory practices, the Boston Globe reported.

The Globe reported that once Tahiliani and Tsai began participating in the federal probe, the lawsuit alleges, DeMaria had secret cameras installed in the superintendent’s office.

“The FBI removed those and is currently investigating that unlawful wiretapping activity,” according to the lawsuit, as reported in the Globe.

The lawsuit in federal district court is a successor to similar complaints Tahiliani and Tsai previously filed with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination. The lawsuit asks for an undetermined amount in damages and for the defendants to be ordered to cease and desist, the Globe reported.

“The institutional racism championed by Everett Mayor Carlo DeMaria and his cronies for the School Committee was and still is palpable,” the complaint reads. “Mayor DeMaria had relatively little involvement with the School Committee until Tahiliani and Tsai — two non-white women — were appointed. Their appointment upset his apple cart,” the Globe reported.

The federal lawsuit comes after a March 6 meeting, where the School Committee voted 6 to 4 against renewing her contract. Tahiliani has led the school system since March 2020 and her existing contract extends until March 2024, the Globe reported.

According to the lawsuit, Tahiliani and Tsai were scheduled to meet with the Department of Justice regarding their concerns two days after that committee meeting. The federal scrutiny dates to last summer, when US Attorney Rachael Rollins opened an investigation of possible civil rights violations in city government following a series of racist and racially charged incidents, the Globe reported.

At the School Committee meeting, supporters of Tahiliani acknowledged that some teachers and parents were disgruntled, but cited extensive positive feedback from students and families. Most of the more than 20 public commenters at the meeting were on Tahiliani’s side. Speakers praised her efforts to engage the majority-minority students and families of the mostly Latino district, the Globe reported.

“While the School Committee’s decision to reject renewal of my contract is devastating, I remain proud of all we have accomplished,” Tahiliani said in a statement released following the meeting. “I will continue to devote my remaining time as Superintendent to leading the schools which are the foundation of our community. With students like ours, the future of Everett is bright,” the Globe reported.

Tahiliani is the first person of color to lead the Everett school district, where 85 percent of the enrollment is students of color. Prior to her arrival, the central office administrative team was 100 percent white, but after taking the job, she began appointing a more diverse staff, the Globe reported.

Tahiliani was one of fewer than two dozen superintendents of color across Massachusetts last school year, and one of several who have already lost their jobs or been put on leave. Last month, Wayland Superintendent Omar Easy, who is Black, filed an MCAD complaint of his own against Wayland after being put on leave by the School Committee. Easy also filed an MCAD complaint against Everett in 2019, the Globe reported.

“The fact that she is a woman of color is incredibly important as Everett students are 80 percent or more students of color,” said Tiana Allen, an Everett High School junior and an organizer of a student walkout that occurred three days after the vote, the Globe reported.

“I would support anyone who has done what Priya has done,” Allen said. “I feel she is highly qualified and representative of what Everett is all about.”

Dozens of students and other supporters of the superintendent walked from the high school to City Hall as a show of support. The students called for Tahiliani to be offered a new contract and for DeMaria to be removed from the School Committee, both the Globe and the Leader Herald reported.

Prior to Tahiliani’s tenure in Everett, DeMariadid not have a voting seat on the School Committee. The City Council changed the city charter at his request to make him a voting member of the School Committee in January 2021; the lawsuit alleges that DeMaria only sought to join the School Committee once Tahiliani began hiring non-white applicants, the Globe reported.

Tahiliani was unanimously appointed superintendent in 2019. She has received consistently positive performance evaluations from the School Committee, but she has alleged that DeMaria and the School Committee intentionally undermined her and interfered with her ability to manage the schools, the Globe reported.

Among other claims, the lawsuit also accuses DeMaria of providing less generous school funding during Tahiliani’s tenure than previously, of attempting to limit her role at School Committee meetings, of routinely communicating with white men about school matters rather than Tahiliani or other women of color, and of using “racist, sexist rhetoric” and “hostile and disparate treatment,” the Globe reported.

One other School Committee member, Michael McLaughlin, is also named in the complaint. The two administrators allege that he used public records law to seek interview notes from the hiring of various staff of color — but not for white hires. Neither McLaughlin nor DeMariacould be immediately reached Tuesday morning, the Globe reported.

Tahiliani’s contract vote came less than a week after her predecessor, Frederick F. Foresteire, was released from jail pending an appeal of his conviction for indecent assault and battery on a woman who worked for him while he was superintendent. Foresteire, who served 29 years in the role, pleaded guilty to two other sexual assault allegations, the Globe reported.

“We supported a superintendent who was a white man who controlled our school system for over 25 years, who is a registered sex offender, who has had three people that spoke out about his abuse,” said Juan Soler-Ramos, another student walkout organizer and a high school sophomore. “And then the moment we have a woman, let alone a woman of color, who gives a voice to the students, we want to shut that down,” the Globe reported.

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