Say It, Don’t Spray It [Update]
At a meeting tonight, Boston Public Schools Superintendent John McDonough will tell School Committee members that there are no immediate plans to move forward with a new policy that would equip in-school police officers with canisters of pepper spray.
Here’s the statement from McDonough:
Very often, BPS has been criticized for coming to the community with a completed policy draft and asking for feedback a week or two before the School Committee is supposed to vote. We are trying to change this dynamic. When it comes to the concept of pepper spray, we have been very much in a listening mode. Our 75 school police officers are dedicated, talented, and will do anything it takes to keep our schools safe. I think what we are hearing so far has persuaded me that pepper spray, no matter how well-developed the policy and no matter how well-crafted the training, and no matter their good intention—might serve to drive a wedge between our students and the school police who do a great job protecting them every day.
Before education administrators go arming in-school police officers with pepper spray so they can help protect faculty and students from potentially violent situations, City Councilors would like to hold a hearing on the matter.
In a request filed this week, Councilors Tito Jackson and Ayanna Pressley said they’re not sure why officers assigned to public schools need the spray, and they’d like to hear from school officials, public health agencies, the Boston Police Department, and others about the plan prior to any implementation.
In their request, Pressley and Jackson outline the dangers of using pepper spray, including the adverse health effects that could come with blasting a student in the face, and the costs the city could incur by supplying the spray to police officers in the schools.
“Depending on the brand, pepper spray may contain water, alcohols, or organic solvents; nitrogen, carbon dioxide, or halogenated hydrocarbon propellants; and inhalation of high doses of some of these chemicals can produce adverse cardiac, respiratory, and neurologic effects, including arrhythmias and sudden death,” the councilors argued.
Pressley and Jackson said the “basis” for the pepper spray proposal was “unclear” considering arrest rates in the city’s schools have dropped considerably over the years.
According to a notice on the Boston Public Schools website, officials are “considering the development of a policy to add another layer of security” to help protect students and staff by possibly introducing pepper spray on school grounds.
“This would involve training School Police Officers in the use of OC spray, also known as pepper spray, and equipping officers with this tool,” the statement said.
Two hearings have already been held with parents and faculty about the proposal for officers to be equipped with the defensive spray. Two additional public meetings—one on November 6, and the other on November 13—will also address the request, and gather input from both supporters and detractors.
School representatives said these meetings are merely “the beginning of the conversation,” and administrators will use the feedback to “explore the issue more deeply” before they bring a policy recommendation to the school committee, the board that would ultimately vote on the matter.
“BPS wants to know what students, families, and staff think before developing a draft policy,” administrators said on the school system’s website.