By Gordon Davis
At least 19 students have been arrested in the Worcester Public Schools between September 2015 and November 23, 2015. Of that number, at least two children were arrested at the middle school level.
The two arrests at the middle school level are especially concerning, due to the young age of the children. I find it hard to believe the children had to be arrested at school. With all of the doctors of education in the Worcester Public Schools, there must be an alternative to arresting young children in the middle or elementary schools. There should be a City of Worcester policy against arrest children at middle or elementary schools.
Because of the political hysteria, based to some extent on racism, some people on the Worcester City Council and the Worcester School Committee of Worcester ordered police into our school without a Memorandum of Understanding and appropriate knowledge of the police officers’ duties or restrictions.
This action was not well thought out and now the City of Worcester is out of compliance with the statutes. Being out of compliance might mean that all of the Worcester Public Schools students arrested might have been unlawfully arrested at school with right of causal action.
M.G.L. Chapter 71 Section 37 P requires that a School System have in place a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Police Department:
“The superintendent and the chief of police shall enter into a written memorandum of understanding to clearly define the role and duties of the school resource officer which shall be placed on file in the office of the school superintendent.”
Worcester Police Chief Gary Gemme has stated to the local press that he feels that the vast majority of people/parents supports police in our schools. Unfortunately for us, Chief Gemme is spinning as he offers no evidence. The Massachusetts Human Rights group is collecting signatures of a petition on the issue with more than 100 signatures at last count.
Chief Gemme has made another presumption in that he says the cops in the schools are doing good. Without a MOU it is not clear what the they are doing. There is no evidence that the police are improving safety and education.
There are several reports, including an ACLU report, that shows police in the schools are a source of students leaving school and then going into the “school to prison pipeline.” Many of these students are from poor and minority neighborhoods.
On the issue of the MOU Chief Gemme asserts that he does not want the police to become school disciplinarians. The facts show that the police officers are already the school disciplinarians. According to Public Safety Liaison Officer for the Worcester Public Schools, Robert Pezella, most of the arrests of students was for disruption and disorderly.
Disruption is not a crime anywhere and should have been handled administratively per Chapter 222. Disorderly is vaguely defined and subjective. The actions of the students should likely have also been adjudicated under Chapter 222.
The cat was let out of the bag when Mr. Pezzella stated to the local press that the MOU would likely not be approved until after a safety audit was completed.
The question Mr. Pezella has unintentionally pointed to is why cops were put into the schools BEFORE the Safety Audit was completed!!!
I believe Mr. Pezella is a good man who has been asked by the City to clean up a mess created by Worcester School Committee woman Dianna Briancharia and Worcester City Councilor Michael Gaffney. Mr. Pezella several years ago helped my wife with an issue at UMass Hospital – he was excellent.
This fiasco of putting police into our public schools possibly is being covered up. Mr. Pezzella has not mentioned how parents, students, teachers, principals and advocates will have input into the so called Safety Audit or the MOU.
This statement from Mr. Pezzella is troubling:
“There’s a fine line between disciplinary and public safety and, in some cases, student unrest could lead to a possible arrest of a student.”
Like his misstatement about disruptions, student unrest is not a crime either.
For teenagers it is normalcy.
The question arises about a possible bias on the part of Mr. Pezella’s thinking about students. The use of the phrase “fine line” is curious on the part of Mr. Pezella, as the statute makes it clear that cops are not authorized to enforce school policy, only law enforcement and security. Everything else should be administratively adjudicated.
”School resource officer”, a duly sworn municipal police officer with all necessary training, up-to-date certificates or a special officer appointed by the chief of police charged with providing law enforcement and security services to elementary and secondary public schools.
The losers in all of this are the children in the Worcester Public Schools who are compelled to go into a learning environment in which they can be arrested on the most frivolous or subjective of reasons without recourse to their rights found in Chapter 222. The environment is filled with police officers who do not know for certain what they can or cannot do because there is no MOU. An environment created by the racist rants of some Worcester city officials.