Mayor Martin Walsh is calling the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice’s lawsuit filed against the Boston Public Schools (BPS) meritless.
The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice and a coalition of student rights groups filed the suit against BPS to obtain public records that they claim are being improperly withheld regarding sharing student information with federal immigration officials, including U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) via the Boston Regional Intelligence Center (BRIC).
The lawsuit stems from an incident at East Boston High School that involved two students trying to start a fight at the high school, but were unsuccessful in doing so. According to the School Police report the matter was resolved at the school level without any physical altercation and “school administrators along with school police spoke with all the students involved and mediated this incident.”
However, while cooler heads prevailed an incident report was filed by school police advising that the incident report would be sent to BRIC, a network of local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies including ICE.
While ICE maintains that the agency does not have access to student incident records except in extreme circumstances such as “gang-related homicides or possible threats to public safety” Matt Cregor of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice accused school police of making unsubstantiated gang allegation on reports about immigrant students allows these reports to enter into BRIC and later by ICE. Cregor argues that school police may be overusing the word ‘gang’ or ‘gang-related’ on these reports to ensure the reports find their way to federal authorities. The incident and subsequent police report at EBHS, Cregor alleges, is now being used as evidence against the student in the deportation proceedings
However, Mayor Walsh and BPS both maintain that schools do not share student information with the feds unless there’s a threat to public safety, the school or the student body.
“The lawsuit caught me by surprise, there was no communication from Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice’s and my office,” said Walsh. “The assertion that the City of Boston or the School Department is turning information over to the federal authorities is not true. We are very sensitive to the information we have as it pertains to students. We don’t turn the information over, we are not required to turn the information over. However, if there is an incident, and we are talking a real serious incident that might be a concern to the police that’s a whole different conversation. There’s an insinuation in this lawsuit that we are turning records over and we simply are not doing that nor are we going to do that in the future.”
Walsh said he could not be any clearer in his support of immigrant families and undocumented residents living in the City of Boston.
According to the BPS, unless ordered to do so by a court of law, the school department does not provide law enforcement authorities with copies of any students records, which are protected under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). However, BPS School Police can share school incident reports, which are different than student records and are considered police reports, with their partners at the Boston Police Department when it is a matter of public safety. Examples of this includes records related to potential suspects involved in gang-related homicides or possible threats to public safety. School incident reports are created and maintained by BPS School Police for law enforcement purposes and, as law enforcement records, are not considered to be student records.
The type of serious incident that the city and BPS will not take lightly is the one that occured at EBHS back in March. That month, only a few days after the mass school shooting that killed 17 in Florida, police arrested 19-year-old Kevin Vasquez Funes and charged him under the ‘bomb threat’ statute. Funes allegedly told fellow students he planned to shoot up the school. The Salvadoran national was later detained by ICE agents at his home after it was found he entered the U.S. illegally in 2015.