BOSTON (Reuters) - Federal prosecutors in Massachusetts on Thursday launched a civil rights investigation into the elite Boston Latin School after black students charged that its administration ignored incidents of racism on campus.
The oldest U.S. high school has been under a harsh spotlight for the past few weeks after black students reported that school officials failed to investigate alleged instances of racial insults, including one case in which a student threatened to lynch a black classmate.
Eight civil rights organizations including the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts and the Boston branch of the NAACP last week called on U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz to open a probe into the alleged instances of racism.
"We will conduct a thorough investigation into the recent complaints about racism at BLS and will go where the facts lead us," Ortiz said on Thursday.
The probe comes at a time of increased racial tensions across the United States. A series of high-profile police killings of black men in Baltimore, New York and Ferguson, Missouri, over the past two years have sparked months of peaceful protests punctuated with days of violence, and gave rise to the "Black Lives Matter" movement.
The school's headmaster, Lynne Mooney Teta, has rebuffed calls by some black leaders in the city to resign over her handling of the matter.
Mooney Teta vowed to improve the racial climate at the school, which has 2,439 students in grades seven through 12, in an open letter to students and parents in January.
"If we are falling short for some of our students, then we are falling short for all of our students," she wrote. "There is work to be done."
Boston Latin was founded in 1635, a year before Harvard University in nearby Cambridge, Massachusetts, and well over a century before the United States broke away from Great Britain.
It is a public school, but applicants must pass a rigorous test to gain admission. State data shows that just 8.5 percent of Boston Latin's students are African-American, well below the 32.4 percent of the overall district average, while some 47.4 percent of the students are white, more than triple their 14.2 percent average across the district.
(Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Matthew Lewis)