Guest statementsMilitant Journalism

Somerville becomes second city in Massachusetts to remove police from schools

The following is a press release from the Justice for Flavia organization. Read Liberation’s previous coverage of Flavia Peréa‘s fight for justice here.

Somerville, Massachusetts – On Monday, May 17, the Somerville School Committee (SC) voted nearly unanimously to suspend the district’s school/police Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), and for a moratorium of the School Resource Officer (SRO) and Students and Teachers Engage Public Safety (STEPS) programs. Somerville is the second city in the state to end the SRO program, after Worcester. SC Member Sarah Philips (Ward 3) motioned to stop the SRO program, stop the MOU, and stop the STEPS program given the well documented harm having cops in schools presents to children, especially children of color and children from immigrant families. These school policing programs and school-police collaborations will remain frozen until the School Committee actively decides to reinstate them and codify them in school policy. The motion was seconded by Ilana Krepchin (Ward 2) and overwhelmingly approved by Chair Andre Green (Ward 4), Laura Pitone (Ward 5), Elinor Barish (Ward 6), Kerrie Normand (Ward 7) and Mayor Curtatone. The only dissenting vote came from Emily Ackman (Ward 1). City Council President Matt McLaughlin, who has a vote on the School Committee, was notably absent. In an email to supporters the Justice for Flavia leadership announced the victory: “Police (programs) have been formally removed from our schools until the School Committee actively decides to bring them back in! Congratulations to everyone in this group who attended meetings, signed our letters, spoke out against cops in schools, and came to our action. This first step victory would not have been possible without everyone’s help!”

Justice for Flavia supporters gather outside of Somerville High School. Photo courtesy of Sara Gordon Halawa. Used with permission.

This move comes after months of organizing by parents, teachers and activists inspired by Flavia Peréa whose 6-year-old Black and Latino son had police called on him by SPS after his classmate reported to a teacher that “he touched my bum.” Peréa had been fighting for over a year to expunge the multiple the records on her son who at 6 years old was targeted in the Somerville Public School system’s racist school to prison pipeline. After a year of inaction from city and school officials on the matter, Peréa brought the story to the media. In response to her calls for justice and accountability, parents and organizers from across the city and region formed the Justice for Flavia campaign. The group’s aims include removing police from schools, implementing restorative justice, regular anti-racism training, and an independent equity audit. Justice for Flavia is also calling for the expungement of all of Perea’s son’s records, and an acknowledgement and apology for the harm caused to the family.

“I was furious and shocked when I learned that police could be called on our elementary-aged school children,” said Molly Fraust-Wylie, a fellow second grade Argenziano parent.  “This first step towards removing police from schools is the beginning of restoring my faith in our school system to be a safe place for all children.”

In April the Justice for Flavia group submitted letters to the Mayor, Superintendent, and School Committee signed by nearly 400 people. In response the Mayor, Superintendent and SC Chair met with the Justice for Flavia leadership team on May 6. The tone of the meeting was icy, and city and school district leaders responded to calls for record expungement and repairing the harm done with complete silence. As a result, the group’s leaders were surprised but pleased with this most recent turn of events. “Ending the policing of children in schools was our big priority and we believed it was a long shot,” said Matthew Kennedy, who also sits on the Defund Somerville Police Department (SPD) steering committee. “But the national movement to remove police from schools is building momentum and we are proud that Somerville is leading the way. We’ve been witnessing in real time the liberal recuperation of the radical concept of restorative justice, an alternative to carceral punishment. I now feel more confident that residents are beginning to understand that you can either have cops in schools or restorative justice, but not both,” he said.

“The racism and discrimination that have been allowed to seep through the Somerville Public School system is unacceptable. I feel hopeful that our city’s leadership heard our voices and is beginning to take our recommendations seriously. Now possibly other underrepresented children will not have to experience such harsh circumstances,” said Rob Odilon, father of an Argenziano School graduate who saw first-hand that racism is a part of the Somerville Public Schools.

While this move is an encouraging first step, the Justice for Flavia group recognizes there is still more work to do. Through this process it was revealed most calls from the schools to police were not through formal channels, but rather the result of informal relationships between school principals and Community Police Officers in the Somerville Police Department. In the 2019-2020 school year, at least six children aged twelve and under were reported to the Somerville police. “This is an important first step in getting cops out of the Somerville Schools! It proves the power of organizing and community power for dismantling the carceral state,” said Peréa, SPS parent and mother of a child targeted in school by police and deputized school administrators. “However, what we learned in Somerville is that the policing of our children in school goes far beyond the school/police MOU and the SRO program, which are on the books. What is more dangerous is how our children are being policed and surveilled in shadowy ways that are not codified in policy. The next step must focus on barring law enforcement from school and limiting police involvement in the school to credible public safety threats. This is how schools can truly be spaces of learning and inspiration, where all children feel safe and nurtured.”

The Justice for Flavia group will continue to work with the School Committee and other elected leaders to ensure the Somerville Public Schools develop an anti-racist, transparent policy that severely limits police involvement in the schools, and which is centered on equity and restorative justice.

Related Articles

Back to top button