By Gordon Davis
A small group of parents, students, and activists met November 18 to discuss the City of Worcester’s policy on the duties of police officers in the Worcester Public Schools.
Earlier in the year the Worcester City Council voted to put a full-time police officer in each of the five Worcester Public High Schools.
The Worcester Public Schools and the Worcester Police Department are required by statute to define the policy regarding police in schools in a document called a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU).
So far no one from the City, not the WPS Superintendant, not the Mayor, not the City Manager, or the Police Chief has responded to requests for the MOU.
During the discussion several people said because the policy of full-time police in schools was implemented in a panic based on false assertions that the schools were unsafe, there was no time to think through the legal requirements.
The required MOU likely does not comply with State laws at this time. Mr. Pezzella, public safety liaison for the Worcester Public schools, said in October 2015 that the current MOU is outdated and needs revision.
The Mass. Human Right Commission (MHRC), a nongovernmental organization, functioned as the umbrella from which the people in the meeting will advocate for justice for the students and parent.
Although not officially representing their respective organizations, there were people from the Worcester NAACP, an UU Church, the Progressive Labor Party, a Latino group, a student group and a social service agency.
Ruth Rodriguez, a local activist, gave background to the “school to jail pipeline.” She said some in the corporate world were financing programs designed to have schools fail. The children would then be more at risk for incarceration and poverty. She stated that Latino children are most adversely affected by suspensions and expulsions, although every child in poverty was at risk. Ms. Rodriguez is also against charter schools for siphoning resources from public schools.
Gwen Davis, a Worcester resident (and my wife), whose children went to North High School, said police in the school are a part of the school to prison pipeline and these are some of the issues of the BlackLives Matter civil rights movement.
Dr, Sonya Conner, a professor at Worcester State University, said she thought the way the Worcester City Council was able to ram through the policy of police in the schools was to divide the teachers from the students. She thought the group should reach out to the teacher’s union on this issue.
Another speaker said the ACLU in Boston has helped with the effort regarding the MOU by providing outlines and guidance for the writing of MOU.
The guidelines from the ACLU indicated that:
1. Police should not be used in any school discipline, as these are covered by Chapter 222 of the Acts of 2012 – and not the criminal statutes.
2. The police should be trained in childhood education, especially adolescent behavior.
3. The police in the schools should receive training in disabilities accommodations for children.
4. There should be no arrests on campus for any reason other than public safety emergencies.
The MHRC has been collecting signature on a petition to the Worcester City Council and the Worcester School Committee regarding the City’s policy of police in schools and plan to present the petition to City Council and the City School Committee after Thanksgiving.
The group also made plans to write to the Parent Associations of Worcester high schools and middle schools to make a presentation about the MOU and the rights of parents and students found in Chapter 222. Another suggestion was to leaflet the students at the City high schools with hopes of getting the information to parents.
There is no apparent reason why the City is hiding its MOU, except that it wants to keep the students, parents, and the public ignorant of its policy or its lack of policy.
This policy information is in the public domain.
Let us hope City authorities respond in a positive way to this effort that can only help all concerned, especially the children, and reduce the City’s liability exposure.