It wasn’t quite a repudiation of the past relationship between the Somerville School District and the City Police Department, but after a month of public discussion about the role of law enforcement in schools, the district has chosen to maintain an existing memorandum of understanding while it explores the parameters of a new agreement.
School committee chairman Andre Green (Ward 4) said the conversation about whether police had a place in the city’s schools and what that role would look like would continue throughout the fall. and the new school year.
“Public comments are welcome,” Green said.
Under the current memorandum of understanding, signed in 2018, the agreement must be reviewed annually and remains in effect until revised or canceled by the school committee. The committee refused to put in place a moratorium on the memorandum of understanding in a 7: 1 vote, with Emily Ackerman (Ward 1) voting against the measure, and Council Chairman Matthew McLaughlin, voting on the committee, absent.
Despite public pressure to rescind the deal and questions as to whether it is more harmful than beneficial from its own members, the council acknowledged that clear parameters between the two municipal bodies must be established before the ‘cancellation of the existing agreement.
Committee members agree with Superintendent Mary Skipper who states that a relationship between the two organizations needs to be defined and codified.
“The main issue is the decision of when and how to involve the police in a given situation,” Skipper said, explaining that without clarity, she worries that she will have to call committee members to get permission to involve the forces. order when the situation worsens.
Two law enforcement initiatives – a School Resource Officer (SRO) assigned to Somerville High School and STEPS (Students and Teachers Engage Public Safety), a program that links sixth graders to an officer who follows them through school to their high school diploma – are on hiatus. Neither has been included in school or police budgets. In addition, the officer assigned to the school is on leave.
What is the role of the police in schools?
The committee has been addressing the issue of the role of the police in schools at regular and special committee meetings that have been scheduled over the past month. The meetings were a forum for the conclusions of its own Equity Task Force, a group of educators and administrators working together to move the district forward in an anti-racist direction and bring the truth to the district’s claim. ‘to be “equity in action”.
Committee members have expressed a desire to delay discussions on the MOU, pending information from a student experience survey currently being conducted by the task force. The committee hopes the data from the investigation will help inform its decisions about the relationship between district schools and the city police.
She also responds to pressure from the Justice for Flavia organization created around the experience of Flavia Peréa, a mother from Somerville whose 6-year-old son, who identifies as Latinx and Black, has been accused of sexual assault. during a touching incident in his classroom. in November 2019. The complaining student is white.
Peréa fought to know the details of what happened and to have all official accounts of the incident erased. Peréa called on the school and the city to recognize the harm done to his family and to hold those responsible to account.
Peréa calls for the replacement of the police by counselors in the city’s schools, a fully funded restorative justice program, annual training on anti-racist and implicit bias, and an independent audit of school and city fairness.
The groups’ demands were similar to those made by the educators themselves in a letter to the committee in April. Hundreds of city educators, supported by the Somerville Educators Union, have personally called for a debriefing of the district’s relationship with police and a review of current disciplinary systems and structures to assess their disproportionate impact on students who identify as being of color.
Educators also asked the city to hire an outside consultant to conduct a fairness audit of existing policies, programs and practices.
The conclusions of the working group and the requests of the educators and Peréa are in agreement; recommendations that the district invest in restorative justice practices, hire more counselors and social workers were voiced by everyone.
In addition to a school resources officer (SRO), the district has access to a community police officer, a law enforcement officer assigned to each ward who works with the local school.
The STEPS program was launched in 2015 with the stated goal of building long-term links between children and law enforcement, to foster trust and positive relationships between young people and the police.
Committee woman Sarah Phillips (Ward 4), who has called for a moratorium on the ORS and STEPS program, is excited that the city is looking at the role of the police in schools and looks forward to hearing the task force’s recommendations. She expects an in-depth discussion on a new MOU with the public as the committee discusses next steps.
“I am delighted that the school committee is addressing this issue,” said Phillips.