Boston Public Schools is quietly negotiating an agreement with the city’s police force, which Mayor Michelle Wu’s administration said Thursday will not place police in schools but instead will formalize the two entities’ relationship and clarify when educators should call police to respond to incidents.
Police have not been stationed inside Boston’s schools since the summer of 2021. Amid recent high-profile violent incidents at schools, some city councilors and families have called for police to return to schools, while other parents and education advocates want alternatives to keep students safe.
The move to codify the role of police in schools, which the city said started late last year, is in line with a January recommendation by an outside consultant, the Council of Great City Schools.
But the district has moved forward on the politically charged topic without seeking the public’s recent input, despite the consultant’s recommendation to do so. The Boston School Committee has not held a public discussion on the school system’s relationship with police, though members met privately this month on security strategies.
Rumors swirled this week in the city’s political circles that a memorandum of understanding drafted by BPS would potentially return police to schools on a permanent basis, an idea that some centrist and conservative politicians have supported. But Wu spokesman Ricardo Patrón said that is not the case.
“This is not going to be an agreement that is going to put BPD officers full-time in Boston Public Schools,” Patrón said, though details of the agreement have yet to be made public.
Education advocates said the district should have heard from families before finalizing the agreement, not afterward.
“It’s backwards,” said Ruby Reyes, of the Boston Education Justice Alliance. “At what point are they going to actually have the community involved so that it’s not a showpiece or tokenizing but actually getting legitimate input?”
In a statement, BPS said officials considered the perspectives of students, parents, and other stakeholders they heard in the past three years.
“Any engagement between members of the BPS community and police officers will continue to prioritize the security and comfort of our students and staff,” said Gabrielle Farrell, a BPS spokeswoman. She added that Superintendent Mary Skipper believes “the best way to ensure safety at BPS and across our city is to build authentic relationships with our students.”
The agreement will codify procedures for when school staffers should contact Boston police and also define the nature of the Police Department’s response to a slew of incidents, including episodes of violence, Patrón said. Patrón noted that both Skipper and Boston Police Commissioner Michael Cox started in their respective roles last year, adding, “this is about. . . them wanting to make sure they’re on the same page.”
Cox and Skipper “are committed to having Boston Police involved with the schools in the best ways possible to build relationships, promote safety, and to serve the students, teachers, parents, and the entire school community,” said police spokeswoman Mariellen Burns.
The school district stopped employing police officers in response to the state’s 2020 Police Reform Law that required school police to obtain roughly 350 more training hours by July 2021 to keep their positions. The move was also a reaction to calls to reduce police presence in schools after George Floyd’s murder in May 2020.
At the time, then-superintendent Brenda Cassellius replaced the officers with school safety specialists, who don’t wear police uniforms, carry handcuffs, or have arrest powers.
In the wake of the pandemic, BPS educators, mirroring a nationwide trend, have reported students experiencing heightened emotional and social turmoil that have led to more fights, with social media also playing a role. BPS has not released data showing more violence, though officials have pointed to an increase in juvenile weapons arrests.
The latest developments come amid rising concerns about youth violence, including a recent stabbing of three students near TechBoston Academy, a stabbing and a shooting at the Jeremiah E. Burke School last fall, and a double shooting outside the Joseph Lee K-8 School in December, among others. Earlier this year, police said a teacher used her body to shield a student from attack at the Young Achievers Science and Math Pilot School and was kicked while she lay defenseless on the ground.
While some parents have called for a return of police, others want more mentors and social workers, and cautioned police presence doesn’t create safer environments for students of color, who are disproportionately targeted by law enforcement. A recent analysis from the Center for Public Integrity found Black and Latino students were referred to school police at higher rates than their peers.
BPS was required to tap an independent organization to perform a security audit under a state-mandated improvement plan, which resulted in the recommendations by the Council of Great City Schools. The group also recommended the district create a focus group to weigh whether the district should form its own police department. BPS has not announced a committee on the topic.
At a City Council hearing Thursday, Skipper said she planned to build peer mentoring programs and expand restorative justice practices, which can involve bringing students together to resolve conflicts, to more schools in the next year. “This is the direction to go,” she said.