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Attacked with Chromebooks, scalded with soup, menaced with bullets: BPS students and staff deserve better

A nurturing school is also a safe school.

Karen Pham (right) with her daughter in Dorchester. Her daughter was struck on the head by a classmate with a Chromebook and had several stitches in her head.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff

A nurturing school is a safe school. Those two goals are intrinsically linked; one can’t be separated from the other. Yet in Boston, there are troubling signs that for some students, a safe environment is lacking, which means the schools they attend can’t be nurturing.

Also troubling are findings by the Globe that some Boston schools are not cooperating with police investigations of incidents that undermine safety, perhaps out of a mistaken notion that helping the police somehow stands in the way of creating and maintaining a nurturing school environment.

While no one wants a police state, or an academic environment that needlessly criminalizes young people, the presence of weapons and ammunition in schools and assaults on teachers and fellow classmates must be properly investigated. Such situations cry out for cooperation between school leaders and law enforcement.


According to the Globe report, by Andrea Estes, three students at three different Boston schools were recently struck in the head by Chromebook-wielding assailants. One victim, a seventh-grader at the Richard Murphy School in Dorchester, required five stitches. An eighth-grader at the Joyce Kilmer School in West Roxbury said she still has headaches after being struck on the head at least six times.

Yet, as Estes wrote, the school department did not report the incidents to police; it was left to the victims’ parents to do so. Anecdotal evidence suggests a range of safety concerns in or around schools, from the teacher and student who were shot in the parking lot of TechBoston Academy in Dorchester to a teacher at the McKinley Middle School who told police she was burned in the face by a student who threw a cup of boiling ramen noodles at her.

According to a scathing review of Boston public schools, “failures in basic operations and safety protocols have increased in the past two years at BPS.” The state review, done at the request of state Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley, said the district lacks an “effective and consistent process” for tracking parent reports of bullying and other safety concerns.


It also cited “serious safety concerns” relating to the way students were moved to open-enrollment schools, “sometimes resulting in students who were meant to be kept separate from each other assigned to the same school.”

In addition, the state report noted a lack of “understanding, response, and staff training around bullying.” According to the report, there’s also no way to track incidents of violence. It also said “a review of the impact of the reduction of school police should be conducted.”

The decision to remove police officers from Boston schools remains a point of contention. Some parents believe the absence of police in the schools has led to an uptick in safety concerns. Other parents support the decision to remove them because of a disproportionate impact on students of color. They also question the data about school violence.

So far, city and school leaders are sticking to the decision to remove the officers. But whether or not you think police belong in Boston schools, safety must be a priority, and violent incidents should be properly investigated. That means school leaders should cooperate with police, not thwart them.

After the editorial board asked Mayor Wu’s office about the administration’s policy concerning school cooperation with police, a spokesperson produced an e-mail sent by outgoing Superintendent Brenda Cassellius to school leaders on May 19, reminding them when building administrators must notify police and provide them with student record information. According to the e-mail, BPS staff must call 911 in cases involving firearms, ammunition, and dangerous weapons; missing or abducted children; sexual assault; assault and battery with a weapon; assault and battery that results in serious physical harm; medical emergency; threats; and health and safety emergencies.


Some judgment calls are inevitable. A push in a lunchroom line is not the same thing as a whack in the head from a Chromebook. But there should be system-wide protocols, understood by all. There should be clear places for parents to take their complaints, along with clear follow-up on what happens with those complaints. All incidents should be properly cataloged. The safety of the Boston public school system, and of individual schools, shouldn’t be a mystery. Incidents should be honestly and accurately reported and easily accessible to the public. And reviewing the impact of removing school police, as the state recommended, is a sensible step, just as any other big change in the school environment should be studied for its impact.

A new superintendent and a new police commissioner can work together to make this happen. But Wu must make sure it’s a priority. The experiences of some Boston public school students, backed up by the findings of the state review, illustrate a need for system-wide reforms. Wu said she wants to create a school system of excellence. That means a nurturing one, and a safe one.


Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us on Twitter at @GlobeOpinion.