City school officers feeling toothless after police reform robbed them of enforcement powers are wary about breaking up fights, a memo obtained by the Herald alleges.

In the days following the brutal beating of the Henderson School principal last month, administrators fretted about a “communication” from the officers union advising members “not to break up fights.”

That’s according to an email sent to Superintendent Brenda Cassellius on Nov. 7. The Herald obtained that message as part of a public records request on messages around the time of the assault.

The principal was punched in the head by a student Nov. 3 and knocked unconscious. She’s still at home recuperating. The female teen was arrested immediately. But the attack has thrust the Boston Public Schools into a debate about how to ramp-up safety in the hallways.

“This is a side effect of police reform and the union wanting to protect their guys,” said City Councilor Frank Baker of the memo, who added his primary goal is to quickly improve safety at the Dorchester school. “We can’t let kids remain out of control.”

Baker, whose district includes most of Dorchester, wants to see investing “heavily” in training for the school officers who try to keep the peace — even under new police reform limitations.

BPS said there are 34 School Safety Specialists — with 11 more being hired — and 15 supervisors specialists. They no longer have police powers following passage of reform legislation. They were previously called Boston School Police.

They still assist teachers and administrators in city schools where BPS reports 778 total “incidents” this school year as of Dec. 3. That’s down, BPS adds, from 1,064 “incidents” in the same timeframe in 2019. Kids were mostly remote this time last year. BPS did not detail the incidents.

A law enforcement source said Boston Police are not allowed in the schools, but they respond when called, as they did in November when the principal was punched outside the school.

That source added the memo sent to School Safety Specialists was “generic” to remind them they have no police authority and to “maintain their own safety” whenever possible.

BPS says police reform means school personnel who keep the peace cannot make arrests and write or access Boston Police reports.

“The primary goal of the Safety Specialists are school-based community safety liaisons … who use enforcement as a last option,” said school spokeswoman Sharra Gaston.

“It is important to recognize that school safety is a pivot from enforcement to prevention, partnership and problem solving,” she added.

But at what cost?

Baker said he’s “frustrated by the whole thing” and wants a memorandum of understanding to iron out who can do what and how to protect everyone from the students to the staff.

BPS did say they are “working with the Boston Police Department on an (Memorandum of Understanding) to solidify the roles and responsibilities of their team and ours as it relates to school-based incidents when we require the support of the police department.”

Until then, the School Safety Specialists union was informed in an email dated Nov. 5 that “just to be clear,” even though the police reform bill “changed some of the powers held by your members, most of the job functions, duties and responsibilities remain unchanged.”


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