Quincy School Committee Candidate Forum
Virtual forum organized by QFTC Education Task Force
QFTC Organizer | October 26, 2021
On August 19, 2021, QFTC held a virtual forum with six of the candidates running for Quincy school committee seats, to ask them about how they intend to effect change within the policy making body of the QPS school committee. (Ellen O’Donnell was unfortunately not able to attend.) The questions were submitted by QFTC organizers and the Education Task Force.
The Quincy school committee has three seats up for election, and seven candidates seeking to fill them: incumbents Emily Lebo, Doug Gutro,and Courtney Perdios, and challengers Liz Speakman, Liberty Scaaf, Ellen O’Donnell and Tina Cahill. There will be a primary election on Sept 14 to pare the field down to six, and then a general election on Nov 2. POST-PRIMARY UPDATE: The current candidates list is Emily Lebo, Doug Gutro, Courtney Perdios, Liz Speakman, Liberty Scaaf, and Tina Cahill.
We hope this additional information helps you all decide which candidate(s) you would like to vote for in the upcoming elections!
(With timestamps, lightly edited for clarity)
[2:00] Given the rise of the covid Delta variant, what is your stance on continued safety measures in the schools this fall? What do you think we should be doing to keep both staff and students safe, and students learning?
Emily: So the health and safety of students/staff/community are #1 always, but I want to do everything we can to keep our kids in school. Masks and distancing are simple strategies that we need to keep in place right now. I want to hear from Department of Public Health (DPH) and school administration regularly on how numbers look in our communities and in schools, so we know how we should move in our mitigation strategies – do we need to increase them or can we pull back? We weren’t able to get info from Quincy DPH last night, hopefully he’ll better understand our needs moving forward, and I also think we would like to submit questions to them prior to our meeting so the answers are there and we can discuss them.
Courtney: I agree with Emily on all that, I’m sure by now most of you’ve heard that school committee last night unanimously decided to continue with current QPS policy for requiring masks for all students and staff regardless of their vaccination status. After hearing Assistant Superintendent Perkins present the new guidance that DESI just released, this was absolutely the best option – hearing how many students would need to be quarantined and tested without those masks being required was staggering. The priority was to get them back in person learning in front of a live teacher and not a screen. In addition to continuing to require those masks (which I think is fantastic), we need to keep encouraging handwashing, opening windows when the weather is not inclement or freezing, social distancing as much as possible with our full school communities back in buildings. I know Public Buildings did a pretty thorough job last fall of going through and upgrading ventilation systems and air filters in school, I would encourage and expect them to keep watching for weak points in the ventilation system and improve any areas that can be improved.
Liz: I agree totally that we need to have masks. As a mom to two little ones who are too young to be vaccinated, it is not just a theoretical conversation for me, it’s about the lived safety and health of my own children. I agree with Emily that we need transparency of data, particularly local data from our Quincy DPH. I reached out to them earlier this week to better understand what the metrics have been over time. There is no access currently to trends on the website; we currently only have data that’s in the past 2 weeks. He was going to ask for permission from city to start posting our trend data. We need a lot more transparency and access to information in order to make informed decisions about what is the health and safety of our children going to be like as we move forward. I think we need transparency of data around in-school transmission.
Doug: I was a participant in last night’s meeting, and we unanimously supported maintaining mask mandate. I have 2 boys in the system (one just graduated), I understand the issues in schools: we don’t have kids under 12 that are vaccinated, we are much closer than we were in the spring with limited social distancing based on spacing limitations in the schools and the delta variants on the rise… We heard from some of the experts and we need to maintain the mask policy but I do think we need metrics going forward to figure out when we’re going to drop it. We hear that there are no in-school transmissions – that’s what’s reported but it’s difficult for me to wrap my head around that it could conceivably be factually accurate. I do think we need some objective criteria that we can all wrap our heads around, that’s a legitimate public safety metric when we decide to take that down.
Tina: I watched the meeting last night, the one thing I took away from that – what everyone else is saying, the data is going to be really important how we move forward with what we’re going to be doing to keep everyone safe in school. I think that to start this is a pretty benign way to start with the masks, so it doesn’t really polarize people too much from who wants to wear masks and don’t. We can start this way and use the data going forward to see how the students are handling things, how things are working out, where the Deltavirus is really going, what are the real numbers… I think everyone in the meeting last night, Rita Bailey, Miss Perkins, their major intention/main objective is to make sure we keep the kids in school and with the least disruptions that we can have. I think that’s the goal that we all want to go forward with.
Liberty: [technical issues – answered later after issues were resolved] I think we can all agree that there is no substitute for in-person learning, I think the children need to be in-building to get the most of their education. I would like to provide opportunities for them to have frequent handwashing and sanitizing, and to see the classrooms and the surfaces that are touched most frequently disinfected more often. Something I’ve thought of long before COVID came around. I’m in favor of masks being optional, I think it’s a personal health choice and a lot of families have several reasons why they may choose to go masks optional, I understand that a lot of us with children would still maybe like to keep our children masked, and I think if it was optional we would have the option to do that, but the families that think it’s wrong for them may also have that option
[10:45] QPS recently received a low grade from the DOE regarding its discipline policy and its punitive effect on non-white students. What would you do to push the need to review discipline policy in each school; have a uniform district wide policy and collect data on how discipline is metered out so that what needs improvement is identified.
Emily: The state does and has for several years track and report on this annually, and state what strategies we will use to reduce these occurrences, and if those strategies have been effective. But we need more transparency from school administration around this. We see the report at some point most years but we need to be able to take a closer look at it. Our school administration has been reluctant to say everything isn’t perfect or to compare one school to another, and I get being reluctant to compare students, but last year I pushed the district to look into restorative justice for schools as part of our Visions Inc work. Staff at our high school and middle school levels have already been trained on this and they are working as trainers in our schools now moving forward. This strategy is known to reduce suspensions and detentions of non-white students and I will be watching for the results.
Courtney: That data’s already being collected - good, data is useful, it can tell us if there might be a problem somewhere and then we can better go deeper and investigate the problem further, and if there’s a problem it may need more training, more resources, in this case and in general. We really need more guidance counselors and social workers and more resources to better deal with discipline issues. It doesn’t always have to be a punitive measure; a lot of times kids may need more of a support system and we may need to look at the problem in a slightly different way. I know members of our high school security team, I know they’re good people, I know they’re not out to get a particular kid of a particular race, I firmly believe they’re not intending to do any harm to our students. As long as we remember that these people we’ve hired to handle discipline issues are qualified, trained, and intelligent people that do want what’s best for our kids.
Doug: I agree – QPS has been working on the issue for a couple years now, the originally cited schools were Point Webster and Southwest Quincy on the report. Since the issuance of the report, Points made significant improvements and is no longer disproportionate in their discipline practices. Southwest has also made progress, some things they’ve done and are still doing include what Emily has indicated, using Visions guidelines for training within the schools and in the classroom, and are in the midst of the restorative justice training program and implementation initiative. Other ways we can address this are looking at resources for cultural and culturally responsive teaching practices and professional development for the teachers and providing proactive supports through things like positive behavior intervention and supports (PBS), we use this across the district for all of our students.
Tina: What Emily and Doug said are perfect – first, if we are recording the data of what’s happening with students, and we have the info in front of us to determine what it is we need to do, what schools or what areas we need to focus on, and even system-wide. So training is definitely something that we need to be looking at, we need to be looking at trends, we need to be looking at some of the programs like the restorative justice programs and bringing them forward, do our best to mitigate any issues that might be coming up about punitive measures coming up in front of our students
Liz: I think we need to take a family-centered approach and really understand from the family’s perspective what are the challenges they are facing. I think there’s a lot of hard data that’s helpful to inform our interventions but I also really hearing the stories from families about punitive measures as well as perception of being targeted based on race or ethnicity or background, and crafting our solutions based on what students and families want to see us do. We need to listen deeply to their experiences and create solutions based on that. I also think we need to take a look at intent vs impact, certainly we’re all well intentioned especially white people, we have well-intended ways to support students but sometimes the impact does not reflect our intention, so we need to be really thoughtful about what is the impact even when our intentions are good. And of course resources are always helpful, and thinking about transformative justice as well as restorative justice would be really helpful.
Liberty: If we had a general transparent handbook that had universal common language that went throughout all of Quincy public schools with a clear disciplinary action plan in place, and if we could add professional development not just for teachers and administrators but also for paraprofessionals and food staff workers, so that also when they come across a disciplinary issue it can be handled in the same manner that it would be handled in a classroom. I know a lot of issues come up during unstructured time. I also think we could comprise a diverse panel of parents, teachers, and students to collect data and let us know their input on what they think has been useful and not useful.
[19:55] What is your position on MCAS testing (is it effective, how should districts handle opting out)?
Doug: I live in a household where some of us are bad test-takers and some of us are good test takers. On the whole I think that MCAS during a more normal time period does give us good data at the district school and individual student level to help identify our strengths and weaknesses in relation to the standards. I think it helps the district and schools target areas that need improvement and areas of strength, it’s especially helpful in assisting us to monitor the progress of high needs populations like special education students or English language learners. But if a parent chooses to opt out of taking the MCAS they should be allowed to do so. The decision of a parent should be respected by the school district and the school should provide work for the student during the testing period while they wait for the testing to be completed. Schools should handle this carefully so not to make the child feel badly and in any way penalized for not taking the test.
Courtney: We have to proctor and hold MCAS testing in our schools or we’re gonna lose state funding, so no matter how you feel about it, it’s kind of with us. But MCAS - especially in Quincy - I think we do see them as just one tool in our tool kit, it’s a way to assess student learning, and that combined with other tools in that tool kit can work together to improve our schools and our impact on our students. Since we teach our kids in a holistic manner, we must all of those multiple tools to measure their growth and educator impact in a holistic manner as well. As far as opting out, ditto Doug, I think parents should be allowed to opt out and appropriate work given.
Emily: When the federal government (not states) began requiring that all schools that receive federal funding implement a multi-year assessment of student progress into graduation requirements, Massachusetts created their own internal system of assessments. Other states have done other things – used things off the shelf. My own opinion of the MCAS is that the tests are way too long and consume too much of our teaching and learning time. The results can be helpful for teachers in schools if they are used as benchmarks and not as a rating system. We also use MAP assessments and PSATs and SATs in our schools. But for everybody to understand this – there is no opting out process for districts or schools. Parents can choose to not have their students participate but when that happens the school indicators are impacted, the school receives a low grade on participation which affects the school’s overall performance. There is no opt out option at all, it’s just a participation – if you opt out it’s held against you and the school, and you can’t graduate from high school if you opt out in MA.
Tina: The MCAS process – like Emily was saying – is not something we can opt out of. Perhaps the format of the MCAS is too long and cumbersome for students, but is mandated by MCAS system and state and how program was put together and the testing. What’s useful if we have to use it – which we do and we can’t opt out – is to kind of correlate how the kids are doing on these tests but we also have to look at their daily work, their report cards at the end of the year, the work they’re doing in the classroom, and how it relates to the MCAS, because like Doug said, some students might be doing well in the classroom but not MCAS or vice versa. As far as opting out, federally we can’t do that and it doesn’t help us to have this discussion at this point, but we can look at it as just another metric for how we evaluate what we’re doing as a school system and how it’s helpful for students
Liz: From a theoretical perspective, these high-stakes tests have been problematic, similar to what other folks have said: the pressure that it’s put on teachers and our students has really shifted the way that teachers have had to teach, reduced the ability for creative teaching and critical analysis from our young people. From that 30k foot view I think it’s been pretty challenging. And given the reality of the situation that we’re in and that we do need to offer and ensure that as many students as possible take the MCAS, I think we can find ways to be creative about how we take some of the pressure off from our young people so they’re not feeling the anxiety and the intensity of having to take these tests. Need to take a big picture view as well as looking individually at the students and how we can better support them.
Liberty: I don’t believe MCAS testing is a true testament of student knowledge, in my own home some children test well and some don’t, and both children are brilliant and it’s not picked up on that. The MCAS is only one type of an assessment. With that being said I think there needs to be accountability for teachers and students, we need to have benchmarks, we need to be able to see and measure growth. Data from the MAP testing seems to be a little more accurate as an assessment of individual growth. Like you said the MCAS are not going anywhere right away, they are federally a necessity in order to receive funding, but I would like to create a climate that is less stressful and more natural for the teachers and students alike. I don’t think they need to feel this added pressure for the MCAS. And also it’s important to note that when opting out it does negatively affect the performance of the school, if your top learner or student is not partaking in the test it’s not going to give an accurate assessment either.
[27:30] What action would you take to address the disparities between fifth grade students who attend middle schools and those who attend elementary schools?
Courtney: This was the issue that moved me from a parent volunteer to an advocate for our schools. 5th graders in 9 of our 11 elementary schools attend school in elementary school; the other two, Clifford Marshall and Lincoln Hancock send their 5th graders to middle school at 10 years old. I firmly believe we need to make a priority bringing those 5th graders currently in middle school back to elementary school. The decision to move them was not a philosophical one, it was temporary to fix a space problem, and it was a long time ago. So this temporary fix has been more permanent. We have the ability to find a thoughtful, fiscally responsible way to bring those children back so they can have another year in a more supportive and nurturing environment without having to face more mature language, relationships, substances, or situations where they would have had one more year of building confidence and seeing themselves as the big kid in their elementary school like their peers in the 9 other elementary schools across the city. I’ve asked for a feasibility study to examine the options.
Liz: This is Courtney’s wheelhouse, this has definitely been her issue, and so I second everything Courtney says, I would certainly support a feasibility study on what are the logistics and how do we operationalize this. I think it’s an equity issue: when we look at the demographics of the different schools, where do we see more overcrowding, where do we see the kids who have to go into an upper grade building before they’re ready, where do we see the more punitive discipline? There’s a lot of equity issues that I think we have a real opportunity to face right now and be able to come up with creative solutions, but we can’t if we pretend like everything’s fine in our community. But I think if we really acknowledge that this is one of the equity issues that we have a real opportunity to shift and change for our families and make a concrete difference in their lives, I support Courtney’s ideas in how we can get this moving.
Tina: Courtney I feel your pain as someone who is bringing that forward, and I think maybe your students and your children had to face that in a different school, is that correct? [Courtney nods and thumbs-up] Just from a simple standpoint, having your kids moving out of your neighborhood, bringing them to a school that’s within their own neighborhood and their peers, I also feel like being in 5th grade like Courtney said, being the older students in the school is beneficial in a couple of ways, they build relationships with the faculty and staff that are in a school while they’re there, people that maybe they can look up to and can mentor them, but I also feel like being 5th graders in the building, they’re also models for the younger kids and they show them getting to 5th grade, being successful and getting excited about moving on to middle school. I did talk to one of the other school committee members and he made a suggestion that when they open up the learning center, there might be space for them to reconfigure some of the schools so they can put the kids back into their home schools and open up some of the other spaces.
Liberty: I don’t agree with 5th graders being in middle school at all, I don’t think it’s age appropriate for them, and I agree that we should move to getting them all back to elementary school. I’m sure if we all thought collaboratively we could come up with a plan, you could move another classroom, possibly kindergarten instead. I do feel that 5th graders really do need to be in elementary school, it’s really important for them for all of the reasons that everyone else has already stated.
Emily: In 2019-20 school year when I learned the 5th grade students at our middle schools do not have the same half-day schedule as our elementary students, and that this was affecting their ability to participate in extracurriculars, I asked that it be changed and it was. I also asked Ms Perkins at a school committee meeting all of the questions that we heard from parents about the disparities. I believe her when she tells us that those students are getting the same educational experience across the city. But I am very concerned about the difference in developmental ages that occur – but these do occur at all transition moments in our schools. Even parents we have heard from report having had very positive experiences while their student was in grade 5. Even Courtney has said that. But we need to continue to assess this and make sure as those disparities come up, that they’re brought forward until we have a longer-term solution.
Doug: When you go last you don’t have a lot to add, but I will say I admire (like everyone else) Courtney’s tenacity on this issue. This is what drove her, and the same thing happened with me in my public life, it was an issue that drove me to run and I know that this is definitely Courtney’s passion. Emily and I support the feasibility study resolution that Courtney put before the council and I’m looking forward to some of the recommendations for that moving forward. I do think that it’s a long haul and a heavy lift to physically get there to move it, but let us begin as JFK said. Many of the things that Emily pointed out, especially half day, that was remedied (which I think was important) so that 5th graders will follow the same schedule. I know the 5th graders will have their lunches separate from other grades, their own entries into the school, and are kept in their own wing of the school, but it’s still an equity issue until we can reconcile it. I do support the feasibility study and I think that we as the school committee need to move in that direction.
[34:05] How have you demonstrated in your personal and professional life a strong commitment to anti-racism?
Liz: Locally I have been the co-chair of the PTO’s equity diversity and inclusion subcommittee for the past year as well as one of the members for the past few years after Jen Chen and Ashley Lynch Mahoney founded the EDI group. Professionally, I have spent my entire life on social justice issues, and I think 21 years ago was the first time I took a class on understanding the dynamics of racism and whiteness as a social construction, and I’ve spent my entire life trying to be an anti-racist as best as I can as a white-identified person. I have been involved in my professional career as an advisory committee to the city of Cambridge around anti-racism, equity, and inclusion. I have participated in and run many trainings on how to be an active anti-racist as a white person, and I believe it is an obligation that we all have to actively work against systems of oppression.
Doug: A couple of things – first today, in this day and age, obviously the social justice movement has been making gigantic steps forward over the course of the last year with the death of George Floyd, the Anti-Asian Hate movement, and here locally of course some of the issues that we dealt with in the school system around the Instagram accounts and anti-Asian sentiment or bullying or concern really elevated the issue. We – the school committee – set up the EDI subcommittee which I supported its existence, and we’re looking at a whole host of issues around district accountability on that, which makes me proud, but prior to that I was city council president and I set up the first cultural competency training in the city to work better more closely with the Asian community. Professionally in my day job, I worked as the director of public affairs at the environmental protection agency, I run the environmental justice program. We work with disadvantaged groups, translate materials, access interpreters to the public to get input into federal decisionmaking, and we just recently created an environmental justice action plan. So that is part of my professional life, and has been with the many hats that I’ve worn.
Emily: I think that anybody who’s paid attention to the school committee for the past few years knows where I stand on the issue of racism. I was brought up short at a school committee meeting when I realized that the process we were going through was absolutely systemic racism, when we were talking about good Quincy families and tradition. And it was shocking to me how blatant it was. But I think you all know and probably have seen this. Before that I was involved with the Thomas Jefferson forum as a teacher in Quincy when we had a large Asian population increase, so that we could work with them, and Tufts University helped us with that. And I know there are students on this call tonight who have seen me work on the mascot question, and recently we were able to get a meeting with Representative Mariano’s office and we had the students speak. So they know how I’ve been feeling about that. But I know that systemic racism is real and that we need to educate ourselves first about the unconscious bias in our schools. And I would like to recommend that all Quincy Public School staff read this book [“Unconscious Bias in Schools”] I am reading it now and it is excellent. And it shows that it’s not about whether or not you are a racist, it’s about the ongoing disparate treatment of populations by institutions and individuals.
Courtney: When I was co-president of citywide PTO, our exec board wrote a letter to the school committee and school leaders asking for them to open/reopen a discussion on the appropriateness of the now recently retired North Quincy High mascot. It was not an easy issue to tackle or to take on but it was the right thing to do. We held a forum for parents to come and share their views and their thoughts, we had Dr. Yakubian there, school committee member Frank Santoro was there, we had a lively but respectful conversation, and that’s where things have to start, with being willing to talk about it, being willing to take on issues, that even though they’re entrenched, we can make right now. So that was my one demonstrative thing that I have worked on actively. The work of the EDI subcommittee of citywide has been huge, and I was proud to have been co-president when that subcommittee was established. They did great work. I, like all of us here, have more work to do to address my own implicit bias and privilege about safe spaces, and I’m willing and eager to do that work, as I think we all should.
Tina: My professional experience in helping with populations that are underrepresented would be more when I spent time at the college, and I felt like what we needed to do was identify places where minorities or first generation families were underperforming, finding ways to give them student support, academic support, maybe they needed financial support, to be successful in getting career exploration or skillsets that would help them to be successful in professional or personal advancement. So most of my time has been spent trying to figure out ways within our academic system at the college where we could help people to be successful in their endeavors at the higher ed level. So that’s pretty much where I did most of my work to address that.
Liberty: I just wanted to say that I was very fortunate to be born and raised here in Quincy, and I attended the wonderfully diverse school system that we have. I’ve been fortunate enough to have friends from all different backgrounds and different economic standings throughout the city. As a mother I have always taught my children respect, kindness, acceptance for everyone, no matter how alike or different we may be. And in my professional I’m a licensed real estate agent, so I’ve taken an oath not to discriminate, and I deal with fair housing every day. I’m also a mentor in our real estate office, and I make sure that new agents become advocates for fair housing as well.
[42:10] Access to school libraries and licensed school library teachers is inequitable across the state, with high income, predominantly white communities providing funding and access at all levels, while communities that serve high numbers of BIPOC students provide much less funding and access. For example, currently QPS is not staffing its elementary school libraries with licensed school librarians but with per diem paraprofessional subs, which is not only unfair to the students but also to these employees. How might you begin to address issues such as this?
Courtney: The decision happened before I really started watching the school committee meetings once a month, but the school committee of relatively recent yore reinstated the media specialist positions in QPS and I think that that was key. As far as your specific question about licensed school librarians, the media specialists that I’ve met and worked with really do know these positions and know the library services really well, and are able to meet our students’ needs. So I had never thought about that question before. What I am concerned about is, as the responsibilities of those media specialist positions increase, to include things like digital learning, I just want to make sure that we’re giving those media specialists the training and professional development they need to be able to deliver those services to students in a way that gets across those standards that we’re hoping for them to learn.
Emily: I was on the school committee when we brought back the media specialist in the middle school and the support staff in the elementary schools, and that was done primarily for financial reasons. But I want you all to be assured that the elementary support staff are primarily licensed elementary teachers. They are getting permanent paraprofessional pay and benefits, not subpay. I’ve always been surprised that the QEA would allow this practice to go on for so long, and I’ve actually asked them that a few times. I haven’t asked the new administration in the QEA, but I don’t know why the union allows it. Support staff want an inroad into the library, into our elementary schools, and are willing to do this. Many of them get hired when an opening occurs in the schools they work. But to Courtney’s point, we do have digital specialists that work, that was Mr. Gutro’s strength that brought that digital specialists that work in our elementary schools with those library support people that cover multiple schools. So we have those positions in place on the digital technology learning.
Liberty: So I believe every child should have access to the library. Reading is part of everyday learning in every classroom. When I was president of PTO at Atherton Howe, we had to set up a schedule with all parent volunteers. We had to go in and it was basically being used as a storage room, so we were extremely thrilled when we got in-building subs that could actually help and give directions and lessons to the children. I feel that we’re very fortunate to have them. And although I think we all wish that we could have full staff librarians, I think this is a great option in the meantime.
Liz: So I don’t think any of us are going to say we should have less librarians. I think it’s pretty uncontroversial. And I’ve had a lot of conversations with the licensed librarians on the high school level around the benefits to having licensed librarians on the younger level, particularly again around issues of having diverse curriculum that reflects the students’ experience, and so I think that a lot of parents have really jumped in, as Liberty mentioned, parents have really jumped in to staff these learning centers, the media centers, as well as think collectively about what is the curriculum and the content that we want to have available to our students in those centers, but I think that the more licensed staff that we have available to help our students and help the other teachers be able to think more broadly about what materials we have available to our young people, I think the better. So I’m all for more licensed staff and having them be paid equitably.
Doug: I agree with everything that was said. What I’ll bring to it is, I too love the fact that we’ve reinstated the media specialists. I know when my kids were in middle school they spoke about that, and really how meaningful that is. And I do think that the nexus between digital literacy and diversity equity inclusion committee needs to be strengthened. The work between the two of those needs to be strengthened as we move forward. I think a second area that we can and should look at is professional development for the media specialists. Is it as robust as it needs to be? And three I’ll say we have one hell of a gem of a library, the Thomas Crane Public Library, and the satellite libraries, which I think are extraordinary, whether it’s Adam Shore, North Quincy, or Wollaston. I think they are a great [??] the community and perhaps a stronger partnership or a refreshed partnership with the library where we bring in some of the TCPL folks in to meet with the media specialists on a more regular basis, just to continue that partnership and expand that nexus.
Tina: I agree, definitely we have to have a media specialist, if we could have licensed librarians that would be fabulous. A couple of things I think about licensed librarians is that it’s a difficult role to fill, there aren’t as many people out there that are licensed, it’s not a huge population of people. I’ve spent seven years on the library board, Thomas Crane Public Library board, and if we had to fill a position sometimes it would be difficult to do that. But I think the point of having the media specialist is crucial because it teaches kids how to research, how to access the resources they need when they need to look up information, the digital learning piece is huge, and I think to Doug’s point, a really important piece would be to do the professional development. We have to have professional development for anyone who’s involved in our school system for a multitude of reasons. But if we’re going to have these specialists in place, I think it’s important that they have what they need to be able to be impactful for our students in their media sections.
[50:00] What is your opinion on school resource officers (i.e. police officers in schools)?
Liberty: I personally love the school resource officers, I feel much safer having them in the school building. Not only are they keeping our children safe from school shootings and other nefarious activity, but they’re doing far more. They’re creating better relationships with the young constituents of our neighborhoods, they are creating rapport with these children, they’re showing them that police officers can be a resource instead of something scary or something to be feared, and I believe that they are smoothing out issues before they turn into problems. And I only wish that we had more of them.
Doug: When I was on the city council I was a big supporter of community policing, and I view the resource officers as an extension of community policing. I know many of them and I think that we’re fortunate to have the resource officers that we have, I think they bring a lot of confidence to the principals and staff in buildings, they have extraordinary relationships (as Liberty said) with the students, and they really care about the kids, and they go above and beyond in terms of creating those relationships, both inside and outside the school building. And I want to give you one recent example. My son is a rising senior at North Quincy high and his classmate tragically just passed away, and so many of these kids went to the funeral experiencing a range of emotions in an experience that you don’t wish on any child, and the school resource officer literally brought the students back after the funeral, because they were so upset, along with other North Quincy High staff, and he got pizza for them and stayed with them for the day. This was a moment where you needed social emotional support, and I’ll say they stepped up. That’s not in their job description but they were there for the kids and it was a difficult time. So I’m proud of the work they do and I support them.
Liz: I work very closely with police in my day job and I do a ton of training with them around trauma-informed law enforcement approaches, and I think we can bring that kind of compassionate community policing procedural justice approach here in Quincy. And I think that many of the individual human beings who are police officers have gone into the role to serve their community and help support those who need it, and I think sometimes the impact of seeing a police officer for some of our students can feel triggering or traumatizing for them, so this is an opportunity for us to think about intent vs impact, where the intention of having school resource officers is really about supporting the students and offering them an option who could be another supportive adult, and sometimes the impact is actually harmful to them, and so again I think we need to have a family-centered approach where we really listen and learn from families about what do they want to see. Do they want to see school resource officers in their schools? Who do they want to see? Do they want to see someone who looks like them, who represents them racially or ethnically, or speaks their language? And how do we best meet those needs?
Tina: I agree with a couple of things that Doug and Liz both said, and Liberty. When my kids were in school, the security officers in the school were there more as another adult figure to help them, not to be intimidating to them, but to be another mentor or another relationship that was included in the school. And I think there would be someone who could help de-escalate situations that might have been situations that were more detrimental for a student, where they could de-escalate it because they had a good relationship with these kids that it could just be a blip in their radar. I do believe that we need to have people in the school systems that do represent our school populations, so that the kids can feel comfortable and someone that they can identify with, and I think if we do it right and it’s done right, you have the situation that Doug pointed to where they’re more of a support system and another adult relationship that’s positive for the students in the school, as opposed to having it be a conflicted relationship. We should be looking at it as a supportive and compassionate relationship in the school for us, for our students.
Courtney: I think school resource officers are another one of those tools in our toolkit that we pull out when we need them, that administrators can call on when they’re needed, the situation arises that they are needed. To Liberty’s point, I think that they can build relationships with our students and show students what a healthy relationship with the police looks like. Increasing the diversity of those resource officers would help so that it’s not just one race and one gender being represented, I think that would help to Liz’s point.
(And thanks to QFTC and organizers of this forum, I fully support your mission and work and look forward to continuing to work with you all on the school committee)
Emily: I have seen firsthand in schools where this works well and as hoped, that students would form relationships with resource officers, but I’ve also been in other places outside of Quincy where it has had the opposite effect, and it’s very disturbing when that happens. So I agree with Liz that this needs to be looked at closely from a cultural viewpoint. We can’t just assume that because all the white kids feel comfortable, that the non-white kids also do too. But my bigger issue is that in Quincy, the police department assigns the resource officers. I would prefer it if we could interview and choose people who would be the best fit for our schools, and that is the first change I would like to look for.