Teacher says her students were racially profiled at Boston art museum

"It’s sad that although our students are well behaved and our teachers are well educated, that we are still seen as less than and as criminals," teacher Marvelyne Lamy said.
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The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.Paul Marotta / Getty Images file

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By Janelle Griffith

A teacher says her students were racially profiled by staff at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston during a recent field trip.

Marvelyne Lamy, a teacher at Helen Y Davis Leadership Academy in Dorchester, said that some seventh-grade students were taken on a field trip to the museum last week to enhance their current studies in history.

At the beginning of their visit, the 30 or so students were told by a tour guide, "no food, no drink, and no watermelon," Lamy said in a lengthy Facebook post.

The students were also instructed not to touch any of the artifacts in the museum. Other white students on field trips "touched the displays several times" as security looked on without saying anything, Lamy said, but when her students followed suit, they were yelled at by security guards.

Throughout their visit, Lamy said, she and her students were followed by museum staff. When one of her students was dancing to music included in an exhibit, she was told by another visitor, "it's a shame she is not learning and instead stripping," Lamy said.

That was when the teacher reached her breaking point and gathered her students to leave.

"The security guard following us in this exhibit, literally walked us out and yet again tracked our movements," she wrote. "He did not do that for ANYONE else there."

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When she told the security guard that she did not appreciate his following her students, she said he told her he was just doing his job.

Lamy said she reported her experiences to museum staff, who she said "just looked on in pity."

The museum said it would give the students tickets to come back and have a "better" experience, Lamy said, but did not offer an apology.

The worst part for her was seeing the hurt looks on her students' faces.

"It’s sad that although our students are well behaved and our teachers are well educated, that we are still seen as less than and as criminals," she said.

The Helen Y Davis Leadership Academy is a public charter school with an enrollment that is about 72 percent black and 26 percent Hispanic, according to state education data.

Lamy vowed never to visit the museum again and said other people of color should follow suit until the treatment of minorities improves.

"I will not stop until action is taken and people are held accountable," Lamy said in her post.

NBC News reached out to Lamy but did not immediately hear back.

Christopher Coblyn, the executive director of the school, said that he will meet Thursday with museum officials about last week's visit, which he said was intended to reward their highest-achieving students. He described the meeting as "step one in resolving the incident."

“We will give them a chance to provide us an update with their internal investigation and after that, we’ll obviously reconvene," Coblyn told NBC News on Thursday.

The museum told NBC News it was not able to share specifics, citing an "ongoing and confidential investigation."

In a statement from its leadership team posted on its website May 22, the museum said that it was "troubled to learn about the experience" for the class from Helen Y Davis Leadership Academy.

"Last week, a number of students on an organized visit encountered a range of challenging and unacceptable experiences that made them feel unwelcome," the museum said in a statement. "That is not who we are or want to be. Our intention is to set the highest of standards, and we are committed to doing the work that it will take to get there."

The museum also said that "immediately after being made aware of the situation," its chief of learning and community engagement reached out to the academy's executive director to apologize and to investigate what happened.

"We deeply regret any interactions the class had that led to this outcome and are committed to being a place where all people trust that they will feel safe and treated with respect," the museum said. "We look forward to ongoing conversation and commit to using this situation as an opportunity to learn and create a culture of unwavering inclusion."

Rima Abdelkader contributed.