Saturday, May 18, 2024

Somerville High School in 2016. (Photo: felibrilu via Flickr)

The Somerville School Committee voted Monday to call for the permanent removal of police from the city’s public schools in their roles as school resource officers. 

With adoption of a Special Police Subcommittee proposal from January, Police will not be stationed inside schools; will be called in for only the most serious matters – including ones that pose “substantial harm,” which doesn’t include intervening in student fights at school – and won’t get district funds, according to a Wednesday press release from the group Safe Schools Somerville.

The school community can also get to know the officers during structured meetings such as coffee hours, workshops and during extracurricular or athletic activities.

Formerly known as Justice for Flavia, the group is led by the parents of a child involved in a November 2019 incident. 

In that incident, administrators at the Albert F. Argenziano School reported a 6-year-old to police on a charge of indecent assault and battery against a friend – bringing national attention to the district and an extended legal conflict. Children under 12 can’t be charged with a crime in Massachusetts, and legal and medical experts suggest the charge of sexual harassment against a first-grader can never be warranted; yet a district press release said filing charges followed its guidance as a mandated reporter, which is “not discretionary.” Adding to the furor is that the child is Black and Latino.

School resource officers were removed from Somerville Public Schools a few months after. Last November, the district proposed making the removal of school resource officers permanent and implementing a school liaison officer program that returns issues of school discipline to school administrators.

“If the schools and city leadership genuinely intend to address the trauma school policing inflicts on children and families in the long term and eliminate the school-to-prison pipeline,” said Flavia Perea, mother of the child in the 2019 incident, in the press release, “they must acknowledge the harm that was done to my son and our family, ensure the local police record is expunged, and hold the responsible Somerville school administrators accountable.”

Rob Odilon, a Safe Schools Somerville steering committee member, said the Monday decision by School Committee members shows “they are listening to the community and are willing to take bold steps in pushing Somerville Public Schools in the right direction.” 

The office of interim schools superintendent Jeff Curley confirmed on Wednesday adoption of the subcommittee proposal on new policing rules.

Worcester’s school committee moved to remove police from schools in 2021.

A city spokesperson was contacted Wednesday with a request for reaction from police officials or City Hall, but did not immediately reply.

This post was updated March 14, 2023, with the removal of a reference to a vote from March, refinement of the lead; and addition of information about police visiting schools by invitation.