News, Metro, Boston

BPS Safety and Security Discussed in City Council

A hearing regarding school safety and security measures was held in the City of Boston on Tuesday. The hearing analyzed both safety and security measures taken to protect school environments from threatening situations, and it featured a panel from the Boston Police Department (BPD) as well as members of the public.

“A safe school environment is more than just locks and training, although those are incredibly important,” said Annissa Essaibi-George, the councillor who sponsored the hearing. “It’s also about creating a community that is safe and welcoming.”

Matt O’Malley, the District 6 representative, emphasized that each district across the United States should be engaging in these conversations of safety, ensuring that plans are made ahead of time before there is any threat of danger. He also said it was “incredibly sad” that there is even a

need for these conversations.

There are various stages of preparing for incidents of violence in school—prevention, preparedness, and response—said Kimberly Pelletreau, executive director of Safety Services for Boston Public Schools (BPS). The last stage, response, involves a key threat assessment process, which is used to determine if a student actually poses a threat, not just if they have made a threat. She said, aside from school safety, the “ultimate goal” is to give students the support they need.

When a student poses a threat, the BPD School Unit will do further assessment outside the school environment, Sergeant Detective Tom Sexton said on behalf of the department. BPS will pay a visit to students’ homes and speak to parents or guardians to get a sense of the social and emotional well-being of a juvenile in order to determine whether or not they truly pose a threat. They try to give families the support they need, however, they usually just find that these students are going through a crisis and are having an outburst but do not actually pose a threat.

“I’ve been a police officer for 30 years and I would say the Boston Police Department is now probably more ready than ever to deal with any kind of an active shooter situation city-wide—whether it be, God forbid, in a school, but also anywhere in the city,” he said.

The actual number of active shooters has dropped in the last decade or two, and it has only seemed like it has risen because of media exposure, said John Hanlon, chief of operation for BPS. He stressed, however, that this doesn’t mean they are not preparing schools for the threat or active shooters.

Hanlon stressed that, although safety is not just locks on doors, that is a factor. Originally there was a $2.5 million capital investment to improve the quality of doors, locks, keys, and other things, but the mayor increased it to $5 million in April of 2018. He hopes to implement cameras to heighten the level of security in schools.

“That is the kind of line item that we expect to continue to see in the capital plan for many years to come,” he said.

Essaibi-George said that she would be advocating for additional support services for BPS through the budget process.

There are approximately 75 officers across 43 schools, and there is a desire to increase that number, according to Eric Weston, chief of police for Boston Public Schools.

The hearing then shifted to the topic of safety concerns that exist outside schools. With regard to this, Pelletreau called on the entire community.

“It’s incumbent upon a school system and other agencies in the city to make adjustments for prevention,” she said. “This is an issue that requires our entire community—our parenting community, our nonprofit community, and our business community, because I think that school leaders are in a really tough spot with what they have to combat that happens outside of schools.”

Essaibi-George addressed a major crisis across BPS: needle exposure. Although Hanlon said that, to his knowledge, there had only been two incidents within the last two years in which a child was struck with a needle, at Orchard Gardens and Quincy Elementary, Essaibi-George said she knows of at least two more cases at two additional elementary schools.

“It is important that we have better data,” she said.

Hanlon assured that BPD does take this matter very seriously, but that it is a situation that expands across multiple sectors and departments. They are working to install additional needle kiosks at these schools to ensure that they are being properly discarded, he said.

There is a critical need for a fence and comprehensive cleanups, because the cleanups that are being done do not appear to be satisfactory, said Suzie McGlone, a sixth grade teacher at Orchard Gardens K-8 and member of Orchard Gardens United Group.

On her walk to school, she sees many things that children, who walk the same route, should not be seeing, she said, such as prostitution and drug use. For students who have been exposed to these things, she stressed the need to expand mental health services.

Jada Rakard, a fifth grader from Orchard Gardens Public School, said that she and her friends are unable to go to the field beside their school because it is unsafe and they are afraid of being pricked by a needle. Aside from that, even her walks to school contribute to her feeling of being unsafe because she sees people who appear to be “sleeping standing up.”

“What services are you going to provide for me and my friends?” she asked. “What are you going to do for all the kids who are afraid, who have to walk to school and see the needles on the ground, or the drug addicts?”

Rakard concluded her testimony by demanding improvements in safety, including that someone is hired to clean the school grounds daily and that someone is there to protect students before and after school.

“I don’t believe that’s too much to ask for,” the fifth grader said. “I might respectfully remind you that I’m young now, but one day I may grow up to be your future.”

Her mother, Jenina Rakard, a member of Orchard United, emphasized her daughter’s grievances and further stressed the need for a fence. She said that they had been promised that a fence would be completed by May, but that the bid has not even gone in yet.

She said that to her knowledge, there have been only four people hired for the whole district to clean up the needles, which is evidently not enough.

“We know it’s a big and broad issue but the kids didn’t ask for it and it’s not fair to them,” she said.

As a parent of a BPS child, Rob Consalvo, the chief of staff at BPS, emphasized that they are working toward improvements.

“This is an issue we care about very deeply,” he said. “We care, understand, and appreciate the importance of parent, community, and school voices and how they help us make these necessary decisions.”

Photo Courtesy of Kaitlin Meeks / Heights Senior Staff

April 1, 2019