Days after a Boston school principal was left hospitalized by a student assault, Mayor-elect Michelle Wu met with school leaders Monday and stressed the need for robust mental health supports to address trauma and prevent school violence.
Speaking to reporters after a private meeting with Boston Public Schools Superintendent Brenda Cassellius, Wu pledged to “do whatever it takes” to ensure all students, teachers, and staff are “comfortable, safe, and protected within our school buildings.”
But she continued to resist calls from some quarters for a stronger police presence in schools, stressing instead “a much bigger picture of what investments are needed in social and emotional health, and resources to stabilize families.”
“This is not just about reacting to situations, but ensuring that every single young person is fully supported,” said Wu, who will be sworn in as mayor next week. “We need to be putting resources into supporting our families from start to finish, from food access to housing stability to mental health supports and trauma supports. We have gone through so much as a community during the pandemic. And our school system is bearing a huge part of that.”
The Dr. William W. Henderson Inclusion School in Dorchester was closed for two days last week after principal Patricia M. Lampron was knocked unconscious last Wednesday. A 16-year-old student, who allegedly objected to being ordered off school grounds by the administrator, pleaded not guilty to multiple assault charges in Dorchester Juvenile Court. Lampron has since been released from the hospital.
In the wake of the assault, some families have questioned a recent move to re-brand Boston’s school police as resource officers in polo shirts and khakis, a makeover strongly endorsed by Cassellius as part of a larger embrace of restorative justice and other progressive approaches to discipline.
It appears to be an area of agreement between the superintendent and the new mayor, whose closed-door meeting Monday was the first of two scheduled conversations this week, according to Wu, who said she expected deeper and more detailed exploration of the issues at their next meeting.
The mayor-elect, who has two children attending Boston Public Schools, dodged questions about her overall satisfaction with the superintendent, who took the helm two years ago after serving as state commissioner of education in Minnesota.
“We will continue ensuring that we have the leadership in place for delivering on progress, for accountability,” Wu said. “There’s a lot of work to do, and we will continue talking about how quickly we need to make progress on these issues.”
Wu addressed other school concerns, including the dire condition of many school buildings in Boston, and the unique opportunity presented by federal pandemic relief funds for education. “It’s unacceptable that so many of our young people are in buildings that are so dated, and fall short in controls and ventilation and basic modern health and safety standards,” she said.
“We have incredible resources . . . but we need a clear vision coming from city government, coming out of our school system, for what the priorities are and how we can all be aligned on that,” Wu said.
She was also asked about brewing unrest among the district’s school bus drivers, who have threatened to strike over unresolved contractual issues including wages and working conditions.
A shortage of bus drivers at the start of the school year led to weeks of headaches for families and district leaders as they struggled with late buses and route disruptions.
If tensions continue to mount, the standoff could become one of the first crises Wu will face as mayor. A temporary extension of the drivers’ contract expires on Monday, the day before she takes office.
Members of the school bus drivers’ union plan a rally Tuesday morning at the main office of Transdev, the company that manages school transportation for the city. The group noted in a flyer about the event that “if we don’t get our justice at the negotiating table, we will get it on the picket line.”
Responding to a question about the contract dispute on Monday, Wu cited “the ongoing need to ensure that every single one of our collective bargaining contracts . . . is grounded in fairness and equity and safe working conditions.”
Asked about COVID-19 policies in public schools, and plans for phasing out the ongoing mask requirement for students, staff, and teachers, Wu said the city’s public health commission, along with her Cabinet, is tracking infection data and looking into possible proposals “to match our practices around COVID-19 with what the numbers are telling us.”
She said the city will maintain uniform health protocols across all schools in the district, rather than allowing differing practices among schools.
Naomi Martin and Tonya Alanez of the Globe staff contributed to this report.