Boston Public Schools should consider forming an internal police department that would place officers back on campuses, according to a recommendation made by an outside consultant that is likely to draw strong opposition.
Other proposals, shared with the School Committee Wednesday night, include creating an anonymous safety hotline, speeding up the recruitment of safety specialists, and coming to an agreement with Boston police on information sharing. The recommendations are in response to persistent safety concerns in the district and a state-mandated district improvement plan that called for the audit of how the district responds to safety complaints from families.
The state also asked the district to conduct “a review of the impact of the reduction of school police.” (BPS took police out of the district’s schools in the summer of 2021 and replaced them with safety specialists without arrest powers, uniforms, or handcuffs.)
BPS tapped the Council of the Great City Schools, an advocacy organization for the nation’s largest school systems, to conduct the review, as well as others that examined how to improve special education and transportation in the district.
The group said the district should create a focus group to weigh whether BPS should form its own police force, according to a summary of the consultant’s findings. The Council of Great City Schools is not affirmatively recommending an in-house police department, the group’s Executive Director Ray Hart said.
“We can share the pros and cons of what that means if Boston is interested, but again, this is just a recommendation to have the conversation,” Hart said.
The report comes shortly after a group of city councilors called on the district to restore police to schools, provoking an outcry from juvenile justice advocates. On Tuesday, a group of 14 organizations, including the Citizens for Juvenile Justice, the Boston Teachers Union, and Mass. Advocates for Children published a statement decrying the proposal as ineffective and harmful to Black and Latino students.
Edith Bazile, a former BPS administrator and executive director of Black Advocates for Educational Excellence, one of the signers of the statement, criticized the consultant’s proposals.
“Police officers are not teachers and I think they are sidestepping the obligatory responsibilities to provide safe academic learning environments,” Bazile said. “That really makes me sad to hear that, that that is the innovative thinking they have, on the heels of students returning from a traumatic event — and they don’t have a plan of [violence] prevention.”
Violence must be responded to, but bringing in police is ineffective and results in the criminalization of Black and Latino students, Bazile said.
Another signer, Ruby Reyes, director of the Boston Education Justice Alliance, said the recommendations would be “going backwards.”
“We’ve already lived through this. The results of this are, a child was deported,” Reyes said, referring to a school incident report that helped lead to an East Boston student’s deportation in 2017.
“I can’t believe these are the recommendations from the Council of Great City Schools,” Reyes said. “They shouldn’t be sharing information with police.”
Hart said the information-sharing recommendation is about a “joint understanding of what is going on in the community,” not about “individual students.”
“This report is going to help us as we continue to improve our efforts to ensure the safety of all students and staff,” Superintendent Mary Skipper said. “We’re committed to doing everything we can to learn from the report to create a safe learning environment for our students.”
The full report was not released Wednesday. According to the summary, findings regarding the district’s emergency management protocols will be presented to the School Committee in a closed-to-the-public executive session so that district vulnerabilities, like active shooter protocols, are not exposed.
“We are actively reviewing the potential risks identified within the report,” Skipper said in a statement prior to the meeting.
The consultant also had recommendations regarding the district’s existing safety services, according to the presentation. The consultant called on the district to reduce how long it takes to hire safety specialists and to work to improve morale among safety staff.
Some of the recommendations in the report are already underway, the district said, including discussions with the police around a memorandum of understanding, the recruitment of more safety specialists, and efforts to improve safety specialist morale.
Skipper noted that the district asked the consultant for a “high-level management view” of its safety protocols, specifically including the relationship with Boston Police, but the report does not cover all student safety efforts in the district.
“It does not discuss in detail strategies such as restorative justice, increasing and supporting school counselors, or wraparound supports, all of which are critical to ensuring the BPS community’s holistic safety,” she said.
According to the presentation, other key findings in the report include:
- The district takes too long to hire for security-related roles, resulting in candidates taking other jobs.
- Since police were taken out of district schools in the summer of 2021, staff said they spend more time addressing safety concerns and less time in the classroom.
- The 2020 Police Reform Bill, a Massachusetts law that required additional training for school police, has resulted in confusion around the responsibilities of the district versus that of the police.
The recommendations drew a range of questions from the School Committee both on specific issues like where law enforcement records are housed or what sort of focus group would be formed and on general matters like why the report was produced in the first place.
“Do we have a clear understanding of what we consider to be the state of the problem?” member Brandon Cardet-Hernandez asked. “I’m a little confused around what we’re looking to solve.”
District officials said that the report was mandated by the state and that they are seeking to implement best practices in general.