May 26, 2021

After students report being pressured to participate in ‘weird, uncomfortable and cult-like’ counseling sessions, Boston Public Schools end relationship with nonprofit

The Associated Press
May 26, 2021

Boston schools will not work with a nonprofit after an independent report found the director pressured students to participate in uncomfortable counseling sessions, among other accusations of misconduct.

The school district has ended its contract with Youth On Board, the nonprofit it paid to run a student advisory board for many years, Superintendent Brenda Cassellius said Monday.

An independent report found the nonprofit’s director, Jenny Sazama, pressured students who were a part of the Boston Student Advisory Council to participate in “Re-evaluation Counseling” sessions with her. The counseling encourages people to relate difficult experiences and release emotions by crying, screaming, or laughing.

Students interviewed as part of the independent investigation said the counseling sessions, which Sazama had conducted in her basement before the pandemic, were “weird, uncomfortable and cult-like.”

“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.”

The report also found there was little oversight of the counseling sessions, inconsistent attempts to get permission from parents for their children to attend and that Sazama was not a credentialed counselor.

Students and staff also raised concerns about Sazama’s spending funds on gifts and personal expenses and that senior staff stifled student participation in setting priorities for their work and in running the advisory council’s business.

Sazama told the investigator she was not longer employed by the nonprofit. In a statement to the newspaper, Sazama touted Youth on Board’s long history of success.

“It’s unfortunate to see it come to an end under these circumstances,” she said.

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