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OPINION

Let’s talk about Boston school violence

No matter what side of the police-in-school debate you are on, these incidents deserve transparency and public attention.

A bus arrives at TechBoston Academy in Dorchester on March 17. Two teenagers were arrested and charged in connection with the March 15 shooting of a teacher and student at the school.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

This week, a fight broke out between two students at the Henderson School in Dorchester; it was stopped by a staff member who was injured as a result, although not seriously. Boston police were called and filed a report about the altercation, which took place at the same school where last fall the principal was assaulted and other fights have broken out.

According to Boston Police spokesman Sergeant Detective John Boyle, the March 29 incident is under investigation — making it the latest in a series of recent events involving violence or the threat of it in the Boston Public Schools. Earlier this month, two teenagers were arrested and charged in connection with the March 15 shooting of a teacher and student at TechBoston Academy in Dorchester. This week, a loaded gun was found in the fanny pack of a student at the Dearborn STEM Academy in Roxbury and the student was arrested; and last week another loaded gun was found in a storage room at Young Achievers Science and Mathematics Pilot School in Mattapan.

What’s going on? Ricardo Patrón, a spokesman for Mayor Michelle Wu, did not respond to e-mails seeking comment about the recent incidents. But according to one school official who didn’t want to be named, violence in some Boston neighborhoods is causing some students to bring guns to school because they don’t feel safe, which of course makes others feel unsafe. As the Globe recently reported, school officials say that, overall, reported incidents that can range from a student disrupting classes to alleged assaults, have somewhat decreased. But the recent spate of troubling reports about guns raises the intensity level and is something that should be talked about, not ignored.

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Yet when it comes to school violence, keeping it as quiet as possible seems to be this administration’s preferred strategy. For example, the March 29 incident at the Henderson School was confirmed to me by the Boston Police Department only when I asked about it.

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The politicization of everything, now including school policies, contributes to some understandable reluctance to spread the word. Headlines about school violence will lead to inevitable calls from those community advocates who want police, armed with weapons, back in Boston schools. That’s not happening. Police officers were phased out in response to the state’s police reform law, which required school police to undergo more training in order to keep their positions. Instead of doing that, BPS Superintendent Brenda Cassellius replaced officers with school safety specialists, who don’t have weapons, handcuffs, or the power to arrest. Cassellius is departing as superintendent, but Wu has said she stands by that policy.

The shooting of the teacher and student on TechBoston Academy grounds represents the most serious episode of violence. It happened as students were getting ready to board a school bus that would take them to a state semifinal basketball game. A scooter pulled up, shots were fired, and a history teacher and a 17-year-old student were hit. Two teenagers were ultimately arrested and two weapons were recovered.

Finding a loaded weapon in a school is also scary, and so are nasty, in-school fights, especially if they involve knives.

Those who support putting police back in schools say kids are emboldened by the absence of police officers in the schools. These young people know that communication between the safety specialists who are stationed in the schools and the police is complicated by new rules. They also know that teachers and administrators are reluctant to confront them. One Boston Police officer who is directly involved in school matters told me that “parents are taking matters into their own hands,” by confronting students who are threatening their children. On the other side are advocates who don’t want a “police state” in a school setting, and argue that a holistic approach is needed, plus more counseling and mental health resources.

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No matter what side of the police-in-school debate you are on, these incidents deserve transparency and public attention. Not for the purpose of frightening anyone or exaggerating the threat, but to put the problem in context so the city can confront an issue everyone can agree is important — keeping Boston school kids safe.


Joan Vennochi is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at joan.vennochi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @joan_vennochi.