For decades, Boston’s public schools hired police officers to monitor their hallways. But when students returned to class in September after more than a year of learning from home, the officers were gone, quietly replaced with safety specialists without arrest powers, uniforms, or handcuffs.
Since then, the schools have witnessed an alarming number of attacks, one of which left a principal severely injured.
With no school-employed officers, it has fallen on regular police and the city’s school police unit to handle emergencies at schools in the neighborhoods they patrol. Between the first day of school and Thanksgiving break, the most recent 911 call data available from Boston Public Schools, police responded to 177 incidents at 62 schools across the city, The Boston Globe reports.
More than one-quarter of the 911 calls were for incidents involving fighting or assault. And these emergency calls represent only the most serious issues. Teachers, deans, and school safety specialists reported more than 4,000 other incidents to school administrators from September through November, which can range from disrupting class to cutting school or trespassing.
Police officers were phased out of BPS last summer in response to the state’s Police Reform Law, passed in December 2020. The law required all specialty law enforcement workers, including school police, to obtain roughly 350 additional training hours by July 2021 to keep their positions. Rather than retain a school police force, Superintendent Brenda Cassellius elected to replace officers with school safety specialists, who don’t carry handcuffs or have the power to arrest students.