Poll Finds Big Safety Concerns Among Boston Public School Parents

Three-quarters support bringing police back into school buildings

Boston Public Schools headquarters in Roxbury.

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Amid growing concerns over violence in Boston schools, a new poll finds that more than two-thirds of parents of Boston Public Schools students are worried about their children’s safety in school and three-quarters would support a return of police to the city’s schools.

The survey, conducted by the MassINC Polling Group for the Shah Family Foundation, found that 68 percent of Boston Public Schools parents were somewhat or extremely worried about school safety. The figures were even higher for parents of color, with 71 percent of Black and Latino parents voicing such concerns and 79 percent of Asian parents doing so. 

Concern was also greater among parents of high school students, 81 percent of whom said they were somewhere or very worried about school safety.

When it comes to strategies to address safety concerns, 75 percent of BPS parents said they favor returning police officers to schools. Police have not been stationed in Boston schools since the summer of 2021. Their removal came in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd in Minnesota, and following passage of a 2020 police reform bill that required officers to obtain an additional 350 hours of training by July 2021. The district has instead deployed school safety specialists, who don’t carry weapons or handcuffs and don’t have arrest powers. 

The decision to remove police has been controversial, with some school advocates and a number of youth and education-focused organizations supporting the move, while others, including several city councilors, have called on the city to bring police back into schools.

“The safety of our children must be a top priority. We need to reconsider our public safety plan as it relates to our BPS community, and there is a role for police in our schools,” said City Council President Ed Flynn, one of four councilors who co-authored a letter to Superintendent Mary Skipper in February calling for school police to be brought back.

Flynn said he was not surprised by the poll finding of strong support from parents for bringing police back to the schools. “I hear those comments throughout my district and throughout the city,” he said. “Parents are concerned about the safety of our children in the public school system.”

Ruby Reyes, director of the Boston Education Justice Alliance, said parents’ reaction to safety issues and student views “can be completely different things.” 

“We know students don’t want police in schools,” she said. “What students have been asking for is social and emotional supports. I think there is a disconnect.”

Opponents of police in schools say their presence will lead to more Black and Latino students getting pulled into the criminal justice system and that non-punitive approaches to safety issues and school disputes, such as restorative justice strategies, should be used instead.  

Several high-profile, violent incidents have shaken the district in recent years, including a November 2021 assault on a school principal, who was knocked unconscious, and a stabbing last September at a high school. Support for returning police to schools was higher among parents of color. Support for police in schools was 60 percent among white parents, 72 percent among Black parents, 80 percent among Asian parents, and 87 percent among Latino parents. 

Meanwhile, 76 percent of parents said they support metal detectors in schools. Of the parents polled, 25 percent said their child’s school has metal detectors, while 64 percent said their child’s school does not. Eleven percent said they didn’t know or didn’t answer the question.

In February, the Boston Globe reported that the Boston Public Schools and Boston Police Department were negotiating an agreement that would spell out the procedures for when police should be called to deal with situations in the city’s schools. 

The district did not respond directly to the poll finding on parent safety concerns or support for police in schools.

“We continue to work in close collaboration with the Boston Police Department on violence prevention efforts, including community engagement with Boston Police officers in our schools,” a BPS spokesperson said in a statement after the poll results were shared with the district. “We will continue to work tirelessly with our partners in government to address the violence we see across our neighborhoods and schools. Our staff will continue to work daily to ensure that all students have access to social-emotional support and a learning environment that makes them feel safe, respected, and academically challenged.” 

In other findings from the poll, 22 percent of parents say their children have fallen behind academically since COVID’s arrival, while 56 percent say their children have remained on track. Among those who say their children have fallen behind, only 25 percent say their school is doing enough to help them, while 67 percent say the school should be doing more. 

The poll is the sixth in a series of surveys of BPS parents, the first of which was carried out in August 2021. Overall satisfaction with the school system is trending down. In the first poll, 87 percent of parents were somewhat or very satisfied with the district. In the latest poll, which was conducted among 828 parents between March 22 and April 10, that figure was 73 percent, the lowest of any of the six surveys.

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