School officials from the Boston Public Schools (BPS) district reportedly failed to notify the police about three separate incidents from late April to early May that involved students being physically assaulted with laptops.
The incidents occurred between April 28 and May 3 at Richard Murphy School in Dorchester, Joyce Kilmer School in West Roxbury and Boston Latin Academy in Roxbury, according to reports. All three assailants were accused of using Google Chromebooks provided to them by their respective public schools.
The first reported incident took place at Richard Murphy School on April 28, when a seventh-grader was struck in the head and face with a Chromebook. She was reportedly “resting her head on her desk” when the attack happened.
Karen Pham, the mother of the victim, said the attack left her daughter bloodied and so injured that she needed five stitches at the hospital.
“As a mother, it’s heartbreaking,” Pham told The Boston Globe. “My daughter’s friends overheard the student say he thought it was funny.”
Another female student was reportedly struck at least six times in the head with a Chromebook at Joyce Kilmer School on May 2. The victim said she was attacked by a former friend and was hospitalized due to a concussion following the incident.
Solanyi Peguero, the mother of the victim, said the school failed to report the incident to the Boston Police Department (BPD). The assailant was only suspended for a few days and continued to intimidate her former friend after returning to school, Peguero noted.
Authorities responded to Boston Latin Academy on May 3 after a girl was accused of hitting a boy with a Chromebook on the head over a classroom seat dispute. The boy’s parents filed a report since his school did not take action. The responding officer said he was “unable to input suspect information because of restrictions prohibiting BPS to share information with BPD.”
Schools in the BPS district are not allowed to share specific information about their students with the police due to federal student privacy laws, outgoing Superintendent Brenda Cassellius explained. Cassellius also said law enforcement could appeal to the School Department’s lawyer if information is required.
Meanwhile, the District Attorney’s office said prosecutors need to subpoena records to acquire specific information before bringing criminal charges against students or investigating cases that involve them.
“The safety of our students and staff is our highest priority. BPS policy requires police to be notified whenever there is an imminent risk to the health and safety of staff and/or students,” BPS said in a statement. “All incidents involving student safety require BPS staff to notify parents and/or guardians. In addition, BPS staff work with students and families to create individual safety plans to ensure that our students and staff experience a safe environment.”
While schools are required to call the authorities when there is an “immediate threat to health and safety,” such as an active shooter or a sexual assault, Cassellius acknowledged that other situations are often a judgment call.
A recent example involves an incident from last week at McKinley Middle School in Boston in which a teacher suffered burns on her face after a student threw a cup of boiling ramen noodles at her. The authorities said in their report that her school’s principal did not notify them after the incident.
“In each case, the code of conduct [for student discipline] was followed and where appropriate, a safety plan has been put into place” to keep the victims safe from further harm, Cassellius’ office said, defending two of the Chromebook attacks and the noodle incident.
Pham and her family have reportedly hired a lawyer and expressed their intention to sue “for negligent supervision.”
“We are seeking damages from Boston Public Schools after my client was subject to bullying and threats of violence for months, culminating in an assault on April 28, 2022,” the Phams’ lawyer, John Peck, told The Boston Globe.
“The school knew of the threats of violence against my client — administrators and teachers knew a student was in danger — and nothing was done to protect her,” he continued. “My client now has a permanent scar on her face because of that inaction.”
Statistics shared by the BPD show that officers responded to a total of 795 school incidents from this school year by March. During the 2019-2020 school year, they responded to a total of 951 cases.
The decline in numbers could signify that school officials are not consistently contacting the police to report incidents, The Boston Globe noted. Additionally, officers patrolling schools have been replaced by safety specialists with no arrest powers since September 2021, which might have also played a role in the decline.