The NAACP hosted a forum on education, October 24, at the AME Zion Church on Illinois Street. One of the topics for discussion was called Public Safety which was led by two police officers and the Public Safety Liaison Officer for the Worcester Public Schools.
Groups opposing the police arresting kids at schools were told that they could not collect signatures for their petition to
City Council nor address the forum.
At one point the organizer of the event came out to the sidewalk and told these groups to stop talking to people. The minister of the Church also told the groups to stop their petition collection while they were on the sidewalk in front of the Church. After some dialog the NAACP and AME Zion Church allowed the group to come into the event’s workshop.
The workshop on Public Safety was run by Public Safety Liaison Officer Rob Pezzella, Sergeant Lopez, and Officer Diaz. Sergeant Lopez and Officer Diaz are full time police assigned to Worcester Public High Schools.
Each of Worcester’s five public high schools has a full time police officer assigned to it. There is a single police officer assigned to all of the middle schools. For elementary school Mr. Perzella explained they are covered by route cases.
Mr. Pezzella stated there is a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Worcester Public Schools and the Worcester Police that was outdated and needed revision. He said that he had no timetable for its revision and it was not entirely clear what would go into the revised MOU. When asked whether the public could have input in the writing of the revised MOU, Mr. Pezzella said that would have to defer to Superintendant of Schools, the Manager, and the Mayor. Sergeant Lopez said that the Chapter 222 of the Act of 2012 required that there some sort of public hearings.
The two police officers told the workshop attendees what they did at school. They said that they did a myriad of duties, including directing traffic, visiting parents, and counseling. Officer Diaz said that she would conduct random drug searches with a drug dog. However, she said that she does not as a rule intervene in a discipline issues unless she is asked to do so by the school administration. Officer Lopez and Diaz both said once she is involved, the principal could not tell them to stand down. Sergeant Lopez asserted that only the District Attorney could order him to stand down.
The assertions and opinions of the police officers are not found in the MOU or in Chapter 222. It is not clear what is the City of Worcester’s policy on the interaction of the police and the school administration and the students.
It would make sense for the City to clarify this policy as soon as possible in order for the parents and students to understand what is expected.
A counselor from the Worcester School Department spoke of how she interacts with the students and parents when there are issues including children requiring assistance (CRA). This counselor is familiar with the regulations and guides the parents and children through the procedures. However when asked, she said that she was not an advocate, but a neutral officer of the court. She had no privilege and the parent and child should not have an expectation of confidentiality.
It was not clear from her presentation whether the parents and children were informed of this before speaking with her.
The groups collecting the petition signatures outside the Church said that the arrest of children at school was traumatizing to all concerned and harmful to the child. The groups went on to say that arresting kids at school has a racist element and was a part of the school to jail pipeline.
PLP and the Massachusetts Human Rights Committee are hosting a discussion on the interaction of the police and school and City Policy. The discussion is planned for November 18, 6 PM, at CENTRO, 11 Sycamore St. 01608.
The City policy on arrests of children at school should be clarified by the School Department, the police, the Manager, and the Mayor. There should at least some minimum age that the police would not arrest a child, but seek instead a CRA. Right now there is no official policy; policy is set by the individual police officers without official guidance. This creation of an official policy should be transparent with the input of the public.