As Boston Public School students prepare to start a new academic year, 25 Investigates wanted to know if new Superintendent Mary Skipper will support the district’s restrictive policy for sharing information with law enforcement.
Skipper replaces outgoing Superintendent Dr. Brenda Cassellius, who stepped down in June after serving for 3 years. Under Cassellius’s leadership, BPS limited sharing of student records with outside agencies like Boston Police.
25 Investigates found a lack of cooperation and information sharing has hindered investigations and emergency services have not been called for assaults on school property. BPS Policy states that building administrators must notify BPS Safety Services and Boston Police when assaults and other serious incidents occurs.
Jonathan Rowell was an eighth-grade student at Up Academy Charter School in South Boston when he was stabbed in the leg in class last May. His grandmother told investigative reporter Ted Daniel the school notified family members but when she arrived, “the ambulance is nowhere to be found. No cops were called.”
Virginia Rowell said Jonathan was bleeding heavily when she drove him to Boston Medical Center. He received stitches outside and deep inside his leg, according to hospital records.
“It was so deep. It was like almost to his bone,” Rowell said. “He got stabbed. For that or anything serious you’re supposed to call police. They’re mandated reporters. I don’t understand where the breakdown came in.”
Jonathan’s mother, Klirisha Rowell reported the stabbing to police. She said the school withheld the name of the student with the knife from police assigned to the case. The student told school administrators he slipped while holding a pocket knife and accidentally stabbed Jonathan, according to Jonathan’s family.
25 Investigates confirmed a complaint was filed against Up Academy Charter School with DCF for the way the situation was handled. A DCF spokesperson said an investigation has been completed but the results are confidential.
Weeks earlier, Tanya Ezekiel’s then seventh grade son was hit over the head with a Chromebook computer while in a class at Boston Latin Academy in Roxbury. Ezekiel said she reported it to police when the school failed to. A Boston Police report reveals the police were unable to input “suspect” information because of, “restrictions prohibiting BPS to share information with BPD.”
“There’s been zero communication on anything” Ezekiel said. “There’s been no safety plan put in place, there’s been no follow up with us as to what their disciplinary action was with that student.”
The same month, a McKinley Middle School teacher reported that a student threw a boiling cup of hot ramen noodles at her face. According to the police report, “The principal stated they would call 911 but did not do so.” The teacher sought medical attention on her own. The student was later charged as a juvenile offender.
25 Investigates requested an on-camera interview with incoming Superintendent Mary Skipper. The request was denied. Instead, a BPS spokesperson provided written responses to our questions.
According to BPS, law enforcement requests are handled on a case-by-case basis under the law. However, BPS interprets The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, (FERPA) differently than other communities, including neighboring school districts.
25 Investigates asked if schools are permitted to identify students involved in physical altercations, like assaults. A BPS spokesperson said that would require a school official to review the educational records of a student and BPS considers that information protected. The spokesperson said school officials are not prohibited from disclosing things they witness directly.
When we asked the benefits of withholding information, we were directed back to state and federal privacy laws.
Interim Suffolk DA Kevin Hayden said law enforcement has been forced to subpoena BPS for information other school districts freely share.
“I believe and know that the law actually allows for the sharing of information when there’s a belief that there’s a safety at risk,” Hayden said. “We don’t want over policing in our schools. We don’t want that school to prison pipeline. But at the same time, I think we all have to be interested in the proper balance.”
With classes set to begin in September, Tanya Ezekiel is worried about her son returning to Boston Latin Academy.
“Just extremely nervous to send him back to that school. He wants to try. Working in a school, I know that I shouldn’t feel that way,” she said.
“I don’t want nobody’s kid to be wrapped up in a system but at the at the same breath, like, that’s my son, I don’t care about none of that,” said Klirisha Rowell, Jonathan’s mom.
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