By Marja Koos, Pamela Sari, Shiyang Yi
Boston University News Service
The new school year was hardly underway when a stabbing occurred at Jeremiah Burke High School in Dorchester, according to police. The teenage victim was hospitalized for non-life-threatening stab wounds following the incident Sept. 12. The alleged perpetrator, another student at the school, was arrested the following day, authorities said.
Dozens of violent incidents in Boston Public Schools have been reported since Sept. 2021, sparking outrage in local communities and pushing parents to demand change. Community organizations like Boston Safety of Our Schools have urged Mayor Michelle Wu and the city to make safety in schools a top priority.
The surge in reported cases appears to have happened after students returned to in-person classes. Associate Director of the Dr. Jean Alberti Center for the Prevention of Bullying Abuse and School Violence at the University of Buffalo, Dr. Stephanie Fredrick, said the rise can be partially attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The pandemic has exacerbated some of this aggressive and violent behavior we are seeing in schools, and particularly among youth,” said Alberti. “We tend to see a rise in bullying and harassment and violent behaviors during any time of transition.”
Alberti said there is a parallel between feelings that arise during the switch from elementary school to middle school and middle school to high school and those present in students returning to school after quarantining at home. As students and teachers try to figure out life during a pandemic, there is a rise in negative behaviors, Alberti added.
“Students are reporting higher levels of distress, higher levels of mental health challenges, and particularly in marginalized and minoritized students,” said Alberti.
Alberti recommends Boston Public Schools collaborate with community organizations, like Boston SOS to deal with current safety concerns.
Boston SOS is a city-wide community movement aimed at bringing awareness to safety issues happening in Boston schools, said group director and pastor, David Searles.
“We realized one of our first tasks needed to be to let people know the severity and the extent to which this is happening,” said Searles. “What we have is a system-wide school safety crisis.”
Boston SOS envisions what Searles calls a comprehensive safety plan, which involves installing metal detectors in schools, bringing unarmed school police back to replace the current safety officers and setting up an early intervention program.
“And yet, we also need to be compassionate and understand that maybe there are some underlying issues that we can bring healing and resources to,” Searles said.
According to Boston SOS’ web page, which chronicles violence in Boston public schools made the headlines, 14 of 30 incidents in 2021 happened in the Dorchester district, followed by four incidents in the Roxbury area. This raises the question of whether the wealth disparity in different neighborhoods has an association with school violence rates.
Although more data is needed to infer causation, Searles believes this disparity can be a factor.
“Let’s say a family is struggling, economically. A child is coming to school and didn’t eat dinner the night before. They serve meals at school, but things are tough at home, this could be affecting the student’s behavior,” said Searles.
“We need more than language–we need specific action,” Searles said about Mayor Wu and the city’s response. “We’re looking for our mayor to step up and openly recognize we have issues, and we need to do something new.”