Liberation News interviewed Andira Ture, a Cape Verdean mother and activist whose 11-year-old son attends James P. Timilty Middle School in Roxbury, Massachusetts. Since late October, other students sexually harassed and assaulted her son in two separate incidents on school grounds. Ture says the school has a culture of disregard for sexual assault that goes beyond her son’s experience.
Liberation News: Tell us what’s been happening at your son’s school.
Andira Ture: My son goes to a middle school that has a history of sexual misconduct. I didn’t expect anything of a sexual nature [to happen to him] in school, but in late October he ended up getting pantsed by two boys three different times in one class. I asked the school if they can handle it and gave them the benefit of the doubt multiple times.
The school took their time responding and became very hostile. They just didn’t wanna be transparent or address the assault. They were reducing it to “boys will be boys.” And then in less than a week, I get a call that my son was suspended – which I believe is retaliation.
They put it on his record that he stabbed another student, even though it was with a pen, there was no puncture of skin or cloth and no witnesses. I am currently in the process of trying to clear his name.
I feel like this is all because I just asked for some help about the pantsing… and for there to be consent classes at the school. One month later, on November 24, I got a notice in his bag that there would be three consent classes starting on December 1.
And then on November 29, I got a phone call that another child touched his penis in class. I didn’t think that something like this would happen to my son again. Maybe it could have been prevented by this education, but I can’t tell you. I literally had to beg. I had to go to the Equity Office, the superintendent, the Public Safety Office to even get them to take me seriously.
LN: How does your son feel about what happened?
AT: The only thing he’s been offered is the safety transfer out of the school. He does not wanna switch schools. He has friends there and he likes his teachers. I don’t think it’s fair that he would get sent to another school, given that the last two years have been unstable because of the pandemic. The last time he was in school was the fourth grade. He finally had stability.
He just wants to be in school and not have this be an issue. It doesn’t seem right that he’s getting punishment from the administration. He pointed out to me “they were gonna suspend me for three days for stabbing someone, that I did in reaction. But the administrators can do whatever they want, my assaulters can stay in the school.”
LN: What does justice look like for you and your son?
AT: I think justice would be real education. Because they are middle schoolers, I get it. It’s the time where they’re testing boundaries. But if it’s not seriously addressed then these incidents are gonna become much bigger. There will be consequences that can’t just be brushed under the rug. It could mean more real jail time for kids of color. Something that will follow them for the rest of their lives.
With just my son, they’ve contributed to the school-to-prison pipeline through this act of retaliation. He’s not being given the opportunity to make mistakes anymore, which is really hard for me to explain to my 11-year-old. Like, “You can’t do this, it doesn’t matter if other kids are doing it. Mistakes you make are gonna get misconstrued as something even more violent than you intended to be.”
So yeah, I would like real education that’s mandatory. Comprehensive education around sexual harassment and consent for children.
LN: Is there a history of sexual harassment at this school?
AT: Yeah. One of the first things that comes up if you Google the Timilty School is that their dean of students was arrested for statuatory rape of a student in December, 2020. It is very clear that he had been grooming students and raping them. So that’s the history of the school, there’s this enabling culture of sexism.
The issue is not specifically just the Timilty School, but across Boston Public Schools. Timilty is in the Boston Public School system. It’s a middle school that’s set to be shut down at the end of the school year. Seventy percent of the school’s population are poor from the working class of Boston.
It’s even more menacing that the administrators are just saying, “Whatever, the school is shutting down.” They think that they don’t have to address this. Having done exactly what they told me to do, reading the code of conduct, talking to the Principal, going to the equity office, going to public safety. I realize there isn’t a system of transparency.
Are sexual assaults actually being accurately reported in the schools? If their understanding of all of this is “boys will be boys,” it shows that they don’t understand how this is a systemic issue. How it’s assault. If they’re not educated on it, how am I gonna trust them to teach my son the difference?
LN: If you could send one message to your son’s school, what would you say?
AT: I would say that I wish that they treated me more as a person, as a parent who trusted them with my child.
I understand that children have regressed the last couple of years from not being in school. Things are difficult. We’re still in a pandemic, even though people act like we’re not. But it doesn’t mean that it exempts them from any real responsibility.
If the teachers are able to also work with us through the union to put pressure on the administration to set a standard around preventing sexual assault, that would be their role. It’s really not the teachers that I’ve been going back and forth with, it’s the administrators. This is their job as administration.
Following this interview, a second staff member at Timilty pleaded guilty and was sentenced for sexually assaulting one of his students when she was 12-years-old. While the incident is over 20 years old, the culture at the school has remained unchanged. Ture’s son’s record has also since been expunged, due to a “procedural violation.”
Ture has three demands for her son’s school and the Boston Public School system:
1. Mandatory sex and consent education at the Timilty Middle School and all BPS schools.
2. Training for staff and administrators on sexual assault at Timilty Middle School and all BPS schools.
3. The Timilty School and all schools in the BPS system must hire licensed school counselors to meet the America School Counselor Associations’s guidelines of at least one counselor for every 250 students. This would mean at least two counselors at the Timilty School, which currently has none.
All progressive and revolutionary people should fully support Ture in her demands. Schools should combat racism and sexism, not uphold them.