By Gordon Davis
The Safety Audit for the Worcester Public Schools was discussed at the December 17, 2015, Worcester School Committee Meeting.
The WPS Safety Audit concerns itself mostly with keeping the students and staff at our schools safe from outside threats. It talks about stronger doors, more security at front entrances, comprehensive responses, etc.
The Safety Audit rightly did not concern itself with internal “incidents” such as students yelling, bouncing basketballs, cell phone use, or dress code which are things that students, who are still developing, act out on.
The WPS Safety Audit did say that if the police were brought in to resolve these “incidents” many staffers and students would not cooperate with the police. This non-cooperation caused by the criminalization of non-criminal incidents could have an adverse effect on safety. The Audit recommended that for these “incidents” there should be a policy of no arrests and deferral to school disciplinary policy and not the criminal justice system.
It did not seem that many on the Worcester School Committee paid attention to this recommendation.
Many people spoke out against police in the schools and the arrests of students at school. Some in the opposition identified themselves as from the Progressive Labor Party (PLP), Mass. Human Rights, the ACLU and a Unitarian Church.
A speaker from PLP said the City of Worcester was not in compliance with state statutes on the use of police in the schools. The required Memorandum of Understanding ((MOU) was out of date and the City of Worcester faced lawsuits for any harm done by the police in schools.
Ron Madnick, a former teacher at Burncoat High School, said having loaded guns, carried by the police, was troubling in terms of accidents.
The student representative from South High School said he agreed students should not be arrested at school unless there was an emergency.
Idella Hazard, a former police officer, said police in our schools was racist and part of the school to prison pipeline. Gwen Davis (my wife) said most of the police officers make six-figure salaries and that taxpayer money would be better spent on more teachers in the Worcester Public Schools and better student-to-teacher ratios.
There was one person who spoke in favor of the police arresting students at school. He is the head of the teachers’ union. He said only bad kids get arrested. He then said armed gunmen could have stopped the tragedy in Newtown, where 21 elementary school children and six staffers were massacred. The Minister from the Unitarian Church replied that it was outrageous to bring up Newtown, as there are no plans to station police in Worcester’s elementary schools.
Interim Worcester Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Rodrigues was disingenuous when he said a working MEMORANDUM OF UNDERSTANDING – MOU – existed.
He said the MOU would be posted on the Worcester Public Schools website December 18, 2015. It was not.
Dr. Rodrigues had said earlier in the month that the new MOU would not be written until after March 2016.
He is learning quickly how to play the Worcester old boy network political game.
It is encouraging that some thought is going into making our schools safer from outside threats.
It is sad that many people think about school safety in terms of threats from students.
Many in our schools and city seem to be afraid of young Black students and anyone adversely affected by poverty – especially teenagers.
It is clear that leadership on this issue will not come from the Worcester School Committee, which has no person of color or even a progressive on board. The leadership will not come from the Worcester City Council, which refused at a recent city council meeting to discuss the lack of a policy about police in our schools. It is not likely to come from the Worcester City Manager Ed Augustus who made a mess of things earlier this year with the U.S. Department of Justice Race Dialogues held in our city.
There is hope to be found in the little group of people who are demanding that Worcester students be treated in a manner that will lead to their success – not to the criminal justice system.