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The Boston Globe

Metro

Springfield disputes report saying city arresting too many students at schools

Springfield Public Schools today defended the use of police in their buildings in the wake of a report by two nonprofits that found that Springfield, Boston, and Worcester arrest too many students for misbehaving in school.

Springfield Superintendent Alan Ingram said in a statement that the report was misleading and inaccurate.

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“The report attempts to paint a picture of an overaggressive, unorganized approach to school-based policing in our district and nothing could be further from the truth,” Ingram said “While we are not willing to let the actions of a few disrupt the educational opportunity for others, there is a clear delineation between classroom management and school-based policing, and it is fully understood by both school and police officials.”

Ingram said that Springfield police, which assigns 21 officers to middle and high schools throughout the city, only make arrests as a final resort for offenses that rise to a criminal level and not for “innocuous reasons as displaying a bad attitude.”

In the report by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Citizens for Juvenile Justice, the organizations determined that the majority of the arrests that took place in the state’s three largest school systems involved incidents that escalated from students swearing, failing to follow directions, banging on lockers, or throwing tantrums, rather than for a weapons or drug offense.

The report, which was officially released today but made available to some media outlets on Tuesday, examined more than 1,300 arrests between fall 2007 and spring 2010.

Overall, the report found that Springfield had the highest rate of arrests among the three cities, with nine per 1,000 students – three times higher than Boston and nearly five times higher than Worcester, according to data it collected for the 2009-10 school year.

It also determined that black students were arrested at disproportionately higher rates in all three cities and that students with disabilities were arrested at high rates in Springfield and Boston, particularly at schools that only teach special education students.

Ingram disputed the characterization that Springfield police may be targeting black students, arguing that the demographics of the students arrested appear to align with the composition of the district’s student enrollment.

Ingram also said it was reasonable that students at the city’s eight alternative schools might be arrested at higher rates because those schools serve as a “last resort for students with behavioral and social challenges so extreme that they are considered to pose a safety threat to students and staff at traditional schools.”

The report did give the three districts credit for reducing the number of arrests over the three years examined, but still found the rates too high.

James Vaznis can be reached at jvaznis@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globevaznis

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