Four Boston city councilors are calling for police presence and metal detectors inside Boston Public Schools, after police said a teacher used her body as a shield to protect a student from an attack by three teenage girls last week.
The councilors, Erin Murphy, Michael Flaherty, Frank Baker, and council President Ed Flynn, published a letter on Friday calling on BPS to add police officers inside schools and “non-invasive technology such as metal detectors” to be reinstated across the district.
Murphy is the vice chair of the council’s education committee; the chair, Julia Mejia, did not sign the letter and did not respond to a request for comment. BPS also did not respond to requests for comment.
Police were taken out of the district’s schools in the summer of 2021 and replaced with safety specialists without arrest powers, uniforms, or handcuffs. Several middle and high schools already have metal detectors. Charlestown High School brought them back last spring after two students were found with guns. According to district rules, a school campus can use metal detectors if the school community, school site council, and head of school collectively decide to use them and the policy is reviewed by the district’s legal department.
Too many disturbing incidents at @BostonSchools. I co-signed a letter to the Mayor & @svilleskipper calling for metal detectors & police to be reinstated into our schools for the safety of our students, our staff and all of our BPS families. #safety #actionnotjustwords #bospoli pic.twitter.com/aHiS48CKWW— Erin Murphy (@ErinforBoston) January 6, 2023
The letter was triggered by an incident last Wednesday outside Young Achievers Science and Math Pilot School, where police said a teacher used her body to shield a student from attack. The teacher was kicked while she lay defenseless on the ground, police said, and both the teacher and the student were hospitalized with nonlife-threatening injuries. No arrests were reported.
Murphy said while many schools are already outfitted with metal detectors, they are not currently in use. Activating them, she said, would not represent an “end all” solution to violence in schools.
“I do think it’s a start and a deterrent,” said Murphy, who, prior to becoming a city councilor worked as a special education coordinator and a special education kindergarten teacher for 23 years. “When loaded guns are being brought into buildings, a yoga teacher is not going to save the day.”
The reported attack follows several high-profile violent incidents that have occurred at BPS schools this year. Last fall, there was a shooting of a student and a stabbing of another student, both allegedly perpetrated by fellow students, at the Jeremiah E. Burke High School. Another shooting occurred in December outside the Joseph Lee K-8 School in Dorchester, leading to the arrests of two teenagers.
The letter also cites data that Murphy recently presented at a council hearing on school safety that detailed hundreds of reported incidents of bullying and sexual assaults.
“We understand that there are differing opinions around the role of police officers in our schools, but there should be no question among City and State Education Officials about returning non-invasive technology such as metal detectors, and having police officers present in our schools,” the councilors wrote.
Opponents of the proposal argued bringing police back into schools would reinforce the school-to-prison pipeline, where school discipline measures like suspensions, disproportionately faced by Black and Latino students and students with disabilities, lead to incarceration. A recent analysis from the Center for Public Integrity found those students are also referred to school police at higher rates than their peers.
“We know that when police have a constant presence in our school, students of color, primarily Black and brown students, will feel less safe in school and will be disproportionately excluded from school through school discipline,” Becky Reindel, who leads the Greater Boston Legal Services’ School to Prison Pipeline Intervention Project. “We also know that school police do not make schools safer.”
The district should instead work to improve safety through community-led proposals focused on restorative justice and increased mental health supports, Reindel said.
“It would be unfortunate to see Boston move in a regressive way, doubling down on approaches that research shows are not effective rather than shifting resources to approaches shown to both address student need and improve school safety and climate,” said Leon Smith, executive director of Citizens for Juvenile Justice.
Police officers were phased out of BPS before the 2021-2022 school year in response to the state’s Police Reform Law, passed in December 2020. The law required all specialty law enforcement workers, including school police, to obtain roughly 350 additional training hours by July 2021 to keep their positions. Rather than retain a school police force, then-superintendent Brenda Cassellius elected to replace officers with school safety specialists.
In the absence of school police, Boston police, including its school police unit, is tasked with responding to emergencies at schools.
Danny McDonald of the Globe staff contributed to this report.
Christopher Huffaker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @huffakingit.