Tag Archives: violence in schools

City of Worcester is Hiding its Policy on Police in our Schools

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 Pezzella, public safety liaison for the Worcester Public schools, said in October 2015 that the current MOU is outdated and needs revision.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.

Educating our WPS students: the fifth “R”

By Edith Morgan

The “R’s” of school life. We all know which ones they are, the four “R’s”: reading (w)riting, ‘rithmetic, and, as I pointed out in a previous article, the fourth “R”: RESPONSIBILITY.

I was just getting ready to write about what I believed to be the fifth “R”: RESILIENCE , when a headline in our newspaper caught my eye: it said that RESTRICTIONS were the new “R” and dealt with the question about what further restrictions were being considered to ensure that our high schools would be safer.

Among the ideas floated were increased uniformed and armed police presence, metal detectors at school entrances, no longer allowing backpacks, and who knows what further restrictions could be implemented to prevent any WPS student from bringing weapons into the schools.

Of course, a number of Worcester citizens, parents, educators and students objected to these proposals to restrict their freedom further, and there was talk of criminalizing the schools.

I have great objections to this trend.

First, I do not believe all these measures will add to the safety of the student body, as there are so many ways to import violence into a school. If guns are too hard to bring in, there are other weapons that pass easily through metal detectors and are still deadly, or at least capable of doing bodily harm.

Second, when I spoke with various persons who knew about the troubles at our high schools, there seemed to be a general consensus that in a body of over 1,000 students they could identify the small minority of students who were the source of most of the trouble.

So why not find a way to zero in on these students, instead of punishing and hampering all the others?

The police gang squad and others in law-enforcement also have a pretty good idea who these persons are. Teachers also know who they are, but in the past few years have been increasingly disempowered and unable to deal directly and immediately with such students – having instead to file innumerable reports, go through myriad bureaucratic hoops, and waiting for some sort of help or relief, while having to defend themselves against differing versions of events, with their word pitted against those of savvy students who know how to game the system.

So we have empowered those who have no responsibility and disempowered those who are held responsible.

I would like instead to empower those who CAN stand up to the few who do not intend to observe decent limits and the bullies (who are usually cowardly and pick on those unable to stand up to them).

Instead of endlessly studying those students who fail in shcool, why not study and try to replicate those kids who, despite the horrible conditions they meet in their families and neighborhoods, still manage to succeed, help, cooperate and exert their freedom in responsible ways? Find out what enabled them to overcome  obstacles, to stay positive in the face of adversity, and to continue to struggle and to finally succeed.

We are not born resilient, but somehow some of us find the strength and wisdom to develop that quality.

Our schools and neighborhoods are full of kids/young adults who have found the secret. Find them,  empower them, and as cream rises to the top , they will rise up and help us succeed. Not with test grades – but with values and habits.