By Gordon Davis
Members of Mass. Human Rights met with Dr. Marco Rodrigues, the interim Superintendent of the Worcester Public Schools, December 8. The meeting was intended to clarify the City government’s policy about full time police officers (school resource officers) in the High Schools and the arrests of students at school. Dr. Rodrigues was open and candid. The clarifications, however, raised new questions:
Regarding the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that is required by statute to be in place before the full time police officers are assigned to the schools, it has yet to be revised. The revisions will be made, according to Dr, Rodriques, after the special training for SRO is specified.
Dr. Rodrigues has been in contact with the National Organization of School Resource Officers (SRO) located in Alabama, regarding the development of training requirements for SRO. The training would be about 40 hours. The tentative plan is to have a trainer come to Worcester. It was fairly clear that the details of the training plan did not exist or were in flux. Sometime in March 2016 is the date of the expected training.
Dr. Rodrigues was uncertain about how parents, teachers, students or advocates could have input into the rewriting of the MOU.
He said the MOU would be based on the specifics of the training and was intended to be a document between the Worcester Police Department and School Departments of Worcester. However, he did not rule out a public review of the finished document. Ms. Davis said Mass. Human Rights planned to reach out to the Parents Advisory Groups regarding the issues.
The Safety Audit for the Worcester Public Schools is now completed, and it should be presented to the Worcester School Committee at its December 17, 2015 meeting. Dr. Rodriques did not go into detail about the audit. Ms. Davis said her group was planning to attend the December 17, 2015, School Committee meeting to present a petition against arresting students at school. She also said that was interested in the details of the Safety Audit.
When the issue of the arrests of students at school came up, Dr. Rodriques did not seem to have all of the facts at hand.
He said he could not comment on whether or not the number of arrests of students at school was up or down.
He was not able to break down the arrests by race or by type. It was stated by one of the attendees that most of the arrests were for disruptions or disorderly (behavior), which are not crimes but are subjective.
Ms. Rodriguez of Mass. Human Rights said Latino children are more disproportionately and wrongfully arrested than other groups of students. She said she was very concerned.
Dr. Rodriques said that Worcester has one of the highest graduation rates for an urban school district. He said that at 79 percent, it is much higher than Boston, Lowell or Springfield. He also said the dropout rate is continuing to decline. In regards to a recommendation from the State, the Worcester School System has lower suspension numbers than previous years.
My impression of Dr. Rodriques is he has the enthusiasm and the energy of the young with the professional experience and education to have a significantly good impact on the Worcester Schools. In a majority minority school district Dr. Rodrigues has the potential to make a positive difference that others would not be able to accomplish. He is already making that difference and he certainly seems to want to continue to do so.