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THE GREAT DIVIDE

Pressley urges Mass. lawmakers to shift funding away from school police to counselors, nurses

‘Students need counseling, not criminalization,’ she says

US Representative Ayanna Pressley.
US Representative Ayanna Pressley.Elise Amendola

The Great Divide is an investigative team that explores educational inequality in Boston and statewide. Sign up to receive our newsletter, and send ideas and tips to thegreatdivide@globe.com.

US Representative Ayanna Pressley this week called on Massachusetts lawmakers to pull funding away from school-based law enforcement and instead invest in counselors, nurses, social workers, and other trained professionals.

In written testimony submitted Monday to the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Racial Equity, Civil Rights, and Inclusion, Pressley urged lawmakers to prioritize legislation to “dismantle the school-to-confinement nexus.”

“When our education system is intertwined with the criminal legal system, students of color and . . . LGBTQ+ students, and students with disabilities are disproportionately forced to endure unjust treatment that infringes on their right to learn,” she wrote. “Instead of police, we must provide our youth with the proven resources that help them grow and cultivate their potential. Students need counseling, not criminalization.”

School discipline policies in the hands of law enforcement often are used to disproportionately punish students of color, Pressley said, pointing to a study published by the Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality. In 2017-18, the study found, Black girls faced a 3.66 times higher risk than white girls of getting arrested at school and a 3.99 times higher risk of expulsion.

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In Massachusetts, Black girls are 3.9 times more likely to face school discipline than white girls, according to a report released last year by the nonprofit Appleseed Network.

“Black and brown students, immigrant students, students with disabilities, LGBTQ+ students, and other historically marginalized students demand and deserve to learn in a setting free from fear,” Pressley wrote. “And it is incumbent upon all policymakers to manifest that reality.”

“This Committee has an opportunity to be intentional and precise in legislating justice and equity by replacing law enforcement in our schools with counselors,” she continued. “As we begin to turn the page on the COVID-19 pandemic, we cannot simply return to the status quo because the status quo was never good enough. In this moment, it is critical that we do all that we can to root out systemic oppression everywhere it exists, including in our schools.”

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Pressley also lauded the recent decision by Somerville school leaders to temporarily suspend two school police programs, writing that “it is past time the rest of the Commonwealth takes steps to put an end to police in schools.”

The Somerville school district faced backlash after a 2019 incident in which a 6-year-old was reported to the police and the Department of Children and Families when a female classmate said the boy allegedly touched her inappropriately. The district has repeatedly defended their response to the incident, but last month the school committee decided to shelve the two programs that bring officers into schools until the board develops and approves a broader policy about the role of police in its schools.

Pressley has filed multiple bills in Congress aimed at restructuring the role that law enforcement plays in schools. Her Counseling Not Criminalization in Schools Act, unveiled alongside US Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, seeks to “prohibit the use of federal funds to increase police presence in schools,” according to Pressley’s office.

Read Pressley’s testimony:


Felicia Gans can be reached at felicia.gans@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @FeliciaGans.