Group says eight guns in BPS since September points to an “immediate crisis”

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Incensed by the eight guns that have been found in Boston Public Schools since September, a group of parents, clergy and community leaders is demanding that Mayor Michelle Wu and other city officials to take action before the next one results in a tragedy.

Boston S.O.S. (Safety of Our Schools) said Boston faces a “school-safety crisis,” noting that at least one of those guns was loaded and found in an elementary school, which means children as young as five years old were “put at risk of the gravest kind.”

“As students prepare to return to school next week, we are calling on Mayor Wu, Boston School Superintendent (Brenda) Cassellius, and City Councilor-at-Large (Julia) Mejia, chairperson of the city council committee on education, to enact a school safety plan that will keep our schools gun-free,” the group said in a statement Friday. “We face a school safety crisis in Boston! There have been more than eight incidents of guns in Boston schools including a loaded gun that was discovered at a Boston K-8 school. We challenge our leaders to not simply say that they are for safe schools but tell us their specific strategy to keep guns out of schools. We need results not just rhetoric.”

The Rev. David Searles, the pastor of Central Assembly of God Church in East Boston, said, “I’m talking with parents and grandparents across the city of Boston about school safety, and they consistently tell me that they want gun-free schools. They are terrified that there have been incidents of guns in schools.”

This level of danger is pervasive throughout the entire Boston school system, he said, and the current school safety plan is not working to keep guns out of our schools. He called for the development of a comprehensive strategy that addresses both these urgent school safety concerns and the mental health issues that our students are facing.

“The position is we have to look at the larger issue of violence in our community, to which I say absolutely,” Searles said. “And at the same time, we need to look at the immediate danger of guns in our schools. We want Mayor Wu to tell us specifically how she plans to prevent guns from being brought into schools. To my mind, guns in schools are not safe schools. Give us specifics.”

On Friday, he didn’t get any.

“The safety of our students is a top priority of the administration,” a spokesperson for Mayor Michelle Wu said. ”Our young people must have safe and healthy environments to learn in, which is why we’re focused on investing in all aspects of our students’ lives — including food access, mental health services, affordable housing and climate and transit justice. The City is taking an intensive approach across departments to end and prevent violence in our schools and neighborhoods. We will continue to work relentlessly to support youth development, safe streets and violence intervention across our agencies.”

The agencies involved include the Department of Public Safety, SOAR (Street Outreach, Advocacy and Response), the Neighborhood Trauma Team, the Office of Black Male Advancement, the Boston Public Health Commission, Boston Public Schools and the Boston Police Department.

“The buck stops with Wu,” Searles said. “The rhetoric of, ‘We want safe schools,’ isn’t enough. Every conversation I’ve had with parents is they’re terrified.”

What BPS needs is a three-pronged approach, he said: metal detectors, police and early intervention.

City Councilor-at-Large Julia Mejia told him she doesn’t want students to feel like they’re in a prison, he said.

“To which I say: ‘And yet you have guns in schools,’” Searles said. “What do you think it means to a kid’s mental health to know that there could be a gun anywhere in their school?”

Mejia did not return an email seeking comment.

Much like seatbelts, metal detectors are a “necessary part of life,” he said, and they can be found in myriad places, including City Hall, where Wu and Mejia have their offices; the State House; federal buildings and courthouses.

“When I go to see my city councilor, I have to walk through a metal detector,” Searles said. “Is our mayor willing to take down the metal detectors at City Hall?”

Boston S.O.S. member Renee Callender, president and CEO of the nonprofit Promoting Conflict Resolution, said city officials need to install cameras at school doors and common areas and bring back plainclothes police to BPS.

“When we had them, they were better able to prevent things because kids came to know and trust them,” Calendar said.

Michael Kozo, co-director of Project RIGHT (Rebuild and Improve Grova Hall Together) said: “The numbers speak for themselves. The fact that at least eight guns were found in schools since September. You need a clear plan between schools, police and the community….Unless people create a plan and buy into it, it’s not going to work.”

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