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New policy on sharing BPS info with Boston Police

Cassellius will have to sign off on requests for data

Saraya Wintersmith, GBH News
New policy on sharing BPS info with Boston Police
The Boston Public Schools came under fire last year for sharing student information with Boston Police. BANNER FILE PHOTO

Two months after a local civil rights group accused Boston Public Schools of sharing students’ information with federal immigration authorities, the city is proposing a new policy officials say will clarify the protocols for sharing that information with law enforcement and other groups.

Under the proposal, which needs final approval from the school committee, Superintendent Brenda Cassellius would vet information-sharing requests from third parties like the Boston Police Department and MBTA Police. The review would not occur when records are shared in connection with a health or safety emergency, a police criminal investigation or a report of suspected child abuse or neglect.

In a closed-door briefing March 5, Cassellius said no previous policy existed, only guidelines issued by one of her predecessors.

The draft policy, she said, was crafted with the police department and “draws a bright line” between matters of school discipline and law enforcement.

“It’s a new spirit of collaboration to be able to make sure that there’s a clear understanding of what is to be shared and not shared around student educational records,” she said. “This does not preclude the police department from having access to our students in matters that are ensuring the safety and well-being of our communities and our schools.”

Cassellius added that training of school officials about the policy have already begun. It is unclear what has happened in those training sessions given that the school committee still must approve the new policy.

Mayor Martin Walsh characterized the proposal as “sound.”

“Our administration here in the city has taken many steps to strengthen policies within our powers to make sure that we have the trust in our communities and also to protect our communities,” Walsh said, pointing to the updated Trust Act, an information-sharing ordinance he signed last December.

Walsh has also vowed that the City of Boston will not change its policies on cooperating with Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents in light of a recent federal court ruling allowing the Trump administration to withhold federal dollars from so-called sanctuary cities and states.

“Just like our law enforcement is a priority in the Trust Act, our schools are also important. Our schools will not be cooperating [with] or assisting federal immigration policy that is flawed and cruel in nature,” he said.

Boston Police Commissioner William Gross also praised the new policy, saying previously, “there was a lot of confusion” about information-sharing.

“We must separate any student behavioral issues from actual criminal activity,” he said. “I appreciate the partnership and working together to ensure that everybody knows their role, everyone knows their job description and everyone knows the policies and procedures as it pertains to the students, what [BPD officials] do in the schools, and what we do to protect our communities.”

The policy comes after Lawyers for Civil Rights accused the school system of feeding a “school-to-deportation pipeline,” by sharing student information with immigration authorities. In 2018, the organization sued Boston Public Schools and the city for access to documents they say demonstrate a consistent, direct information flow between the school system and the Boston Regional Intelligence Center – a federally-connected anti-crime and counterterrorism unit with the police department.

On March 5, the organization criticized the draft policy, saying it was crafted without the input of community stakeholders and leaves open a federal information-sharing loophole.

“Nothing has changed. The new so-called ‘policy’ is nothing more than an announcement that the City of Boston, BPS, and the BPD have yet to develop an actual protocol to govern the disclosure of student records to the BRIC,” Janelle Dempsey of Lawyers for Civil Rights said in a written statement. “This endangers all of our students and families. No one knows the harm better than families, students, educators and other community-based groups; they must be allowed to take an active role in the policy-making process.”

Addressing the concerns, Cassellius maintained that school officials do not and will not have access to BRIC. She said that the city has allowed advocacy groups to weigh in throughout the policy-making process via the Office of Health and Human Services, and that a fuller picture of the policy is forthcoming.

“They have not yet seen the draft policy, and that is because I have not presented it to the school committee. Once it goes to the school committee, they will then review the policy, it will be a public meeting, there will be opportunity to public comment on the policy,” she said, turning to confirm with School Committee Chair Michael Loconto.

“We want to ensure that our schools are safe places for them to go, and that the only thing they need to worry about is the test the next day. Not worrying about whether they’re going to have their data shared inappropriately,” Cassellius said.

Asked about the discretion the draft policy would grant her, she responded: “My responsibility is to ensure the safety of the children in the Boston Public Schools, that’s both on the data side and on their daily health and wellness, and the safety of our campuses. I don’t find that heavy on my responsibility at all.”

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