Boston schools Superintendent Brenda Cassellius announced new safety protocols at the Henderson Inclusion School on Friday, two days after a teenage girl’s assault on the principal prompted the upper school’s temporary closure.
During class dismissal Wednesday, the girl punched Principal Patricia M. Lampron in the head, knocking her unconscious and requiring her to be hospitalized. The incident, which comes at a time of heightened tensions as students readjust to school after pandemic-induced closures, has shaken the school’s Dorchester community, prompting parents to demand how the district will keep schools and their children safe, while juvenile justice advocates warn that punitive measures will escalate conflicts and harm students.
Now, Cassellius told families in a letter, the district will put in place beefed-up security measures aimed at keeping students, parents, and staff safer during arrival and dismissal, including more teachers being outdoors to move students in and out, additional district safety staff on hand, and uniformed Boston police in the area to be called if needed.
“I am personally grateful for the entire staff who came to school on Thursday and convened to develop a plan so that we can ensure a sound safety plan,” Cassellius said, “with clear steps so that students and parents can be sure we have taken every step to restore a positive learning environment.”
At a community meeting Thursday night, Sam DePina, a top BPS administrator, said the district would increase “administrative searches” of students “where appropriate” when the Henderson reopens next week. Officials also described plans for a greater police presence at the school and the nearby Ashmont MBTA station.
In response to a parent’s question about efforts to keep students safe, DePina said “where appropriate, we will step up our administrative searches and, where appropriate, we will step up our mediation efforts and, where appropriate, we will bring families together to have these discussions.”
A BPS spokesman on Friday clarified that the district has no plans to increase searches of students, and searches will be conducted only in rare instances such as when students are suspected of having a weapon.
But the statement alarmed juvenile justice advocates, who warned in a letter Friday to Cassellius that increasing searches and police presence will only further exacerbate students’ struggles at the school, where nearly 40 percent of students have disabilities, 81 percent are students of color, and 85 percent are classified as “high needs” because of poverty, language status, or disabilities.
Boston has no legal authority to increase searches, they wrote. That tactic would not only be unlawful but counterproductive, as it deepens the distrust between students and staff and hinders crucial healing through positive relationships, said the letter by advocates with the EdLaw Project, Citizens for Juvenile Justice, Massachusetts Advocates for Children, Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, and the Mental Health Legal Advisors Committee.
“There is no dispute that the November 3rd incident requires a response that will provide support to the Henderson community, and ensure the emotional and physical safety of students, caregivers and staff,” the letter said. “Unfortunately, the District’s punitive, surveillance-focused response will ensure only additional harm.”
The group called for the district to turn to a trauma-informed approach defined by meaningful restorative justice and additional mental and behavioral health support.
Cassellius in her letter to families said the district will offer trained counselors to support students and the district is also seeking support from its partner, Playworks, to help children play and interact more positively. And the district is working to implement family engagement strategies for better communication to share information quickly and allow parents to respond to the district, she said. Finally, staff will receive more training in crisis prevention and intervention and first aid.
Cassellius said she spoke to Lampron, who will continue to recover at home. In the meantime, Cassellius said Gene Roundtree, secondary school superintendent and former head of school at Snowden International, will report to the Henderson School every day to work with the leaders there to ensure proper safety, support, and instruction.
Redacted police reports obtained Friday by the Globe show that police have been called to the school at least twice earlier this school year, once for a fight involving three teenagers and another time for a mother who allegedly threatened the school secretary. It’s unclear whether either incident was related to the assault on Lampron.
The details of what caused Wednesday’s assault remain unclear, although some parents suggested there had been an ongoing dispute.
Citing another staffer, a police report said Lampron had approached the girl outside school and asked her to leave the area because school had ended. The girl told Lampron “to stop following her,” according to the police report. “At this point the suspect began throwing closed fisted strikes at [Lampron’s] head.”
Lampron fell to the ground and the student was eventually taken into custody. The juvenile “briefly stated that the staff would not stop following her and that is why she got mad,” police wrote.
The girl, who faces one count of assault and battery on a person over age 60 causing serious injury and two counts of assault and battery on a public employee, will be both prosecuted and offered treatment, Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins said in a statement.
Globe correspondent Jeremy C. Fox contributed reporting.
Naomi Martin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.