The majority of Boston Public Schools parents would support metal detectors and police in the district’s schools, according to a new poll released Tuesday.
The poll found that two-thirds of the district’s parents are very or somewhat concerned about their children’s physical safety in school — a slight decline from a previous poll on the same issue in November. Seventy percent of parents were concerned about their children’s emotional wellbeing.
The poll of 828 district parents was conducted from March 22 to April 10 by MassINC Polling Group and sponsored by the Shah Foundation.
The findings follow a year of debate in the district over how to respond to violence after a series of high-profile incidents. Police have not been stationed inside Boston’s schools since the summer of 2021, when they were replaced by safety specialists without arrest powers, uniforms, or handcuffs.
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 data does not show more violence in district schools, but police data shows an increase in juvenile weapons arrests in the city.
“Safety concerns are real,” said MassINC Polling Group president Steve Koczela. “We’ve been hearing about it in polls and focus groups a lot lately. It’s not in the back of parents’ minds at this point, it’s in the front of their minds.”
A group of city councilors has called for a return of police to schools, and a district consultant hired as part of a state-mandated improvement plan said in January the district should consider it. But movement by the district to work more closely with city police has drawn an outcry from juvenile justice advocates such as the Boston Education Justice Alliance and Citizens for Juvenile Justice, who say any increase in police presence in schools would only serve to criminalize Black and Latino students.
“We continue to work in close collaboration with the Boston Police Department on violence prevention efforts, including community engagement with Boston Police officers in our schools,” BPS spokesman Max Baker said in a statement. “We will continue to work tirelessly with our partners in government to address the violence we see across our neighborhoods and schools.”
Several middle and high schools already have metal detectors.
In the latest poll, support for both metal detectors and school police was found across all racial and ethnic groups, ranging from 60 percent of white parents supporting school police to 85 percent of Latino parents. The two proposals had similar levels of support overall — about half of parents strongly supported the measures and another quarter somewhat supported them.
Safety concerns are “clearly linked to support for these measures” among poll respondents, Koczela said. “Parents who express the most concern are the ones looking for solutions.”
“Our staff will continue to work daily to ensure that all students have access to social-emotional support and a learning environment that makes them feel safe, respected, and academically challenged,” Baker said.
The pollster also asked about general satisfaction levels with the school district. Three-quarters of parents were very or somewhat satisfied, down slightly from 79 percent in November. The district’s reviews were best in a poll taken in August 2021, when 87 percent of parents were very or somewhat satisfied. Most parents said the district allows them to be engaged in their children’s education.
Satisfaction varied significantly by race, however, from 63 percent of Black parents and 69 percent of Asian parents very or somewhat satisfied, to 75 percent of white parents and 86 percent of Latino parents. Parents of younger students were more satisfied than high school parents.
Parents in all groups gave better grades to their own children’s schools than to the district as a whole. Seventy-four percent of respondents gave their own school an A or a B grade, versus 49 percent for the district. In a statewide poll conducted by MassINC in January, 81 percent of parents gave their children’s school an A or a B.
Similarly, 40 percent of parents thought the district should be doing more to help students who are behind, but just 22 percent included their own children in that population. The majority, 56 percent, said their children were on track academically since COVID began, and 19 percent said their children had gotten ahead.
State and national standardized tests have shown the pandemic produced significant declines in academic achievement and recovery has been slow, but BPS parents are not alone in thinking their own kids have not suffered. Nationwide polling has found similar results.
The poll also drilled down on specific concerns about teacher vacancies and bus transportation. More than one in five parents said their children were taught by substitutes multiple times a week and that the bus was late at least half the time.
The Great Divide team explores educational inequality in Boston and statewide. Sign up to receive our newsletter, and send ideas and tips to email@example.com.
Christopher Huffaker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @huffakingit.