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‘Chaos’ at Mass. High School Prompts Calls for National Guard

Violence on the Brockton, Mass., High School campus has gotten to the point where teachers are afraid, and four school committee members asked the governor to call in the National Guard to restore order.

Students fighting at school.
Violence is not uncommon in public schools these days, but how bad does it have to get before officials call in the National Guard?

That’s a debate that raged over the last couple of weeks in Brockton, Mass., after four school committee members sent a letter to Gov. Maura Healey on Feb. 15 pleading with the governor to call in the Guard and restore civility at Brockton High School. The governor has since declined to take that action.

The school board members say that a lack of teachers on campus, brought on by massive layoffs caused by a budget deficit, has left the remaining teachers afraid and students at the school raising “chaos.” That has led to violence, the latest incident involving the arrest of 11 students who were criminally charged after a large fight broke out. One of the committee members, Tony Rodrigues, told Fox Business that the violence is a direct result of the lack of staffing.

“It’s sad that we have educators that can’t go inside the building to give these students a proper education,” Rodrigues said. “We have 20 to 25 teachers that are calling out on a daily basis. That leaves roughly 800 students that are unsupervised in the building. When you have a lot of educators or staff not in the building, these kids are free to roam. What do you think teenagers are going to do? It’s a free for all.”

Experts contacted by Emergency Management agreed that despite the level of violence and chaos on the Brockton campus, calling in the National Guard isn’t the answer.

Ryan King, director of research and policy at the Justice Policy Institute, wrote in an email that “preventing and responding to delinquency or criminal actions is far more complex than a simple show of force. The causes of these types of behavior are complicated, and decades of research — and common sense — reveal that you cannot arrest and incarcerate your way to a safe society.”

Mo Canady, the executive director of the National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO), said “there has to be an acknowledgement of what behavior isn’t going to be tolerated. There need to be school resource officers (SROs) or a school police force to handle things when administrators can’t take care of discipline.”

“From a law enforcement side, first of all we have to have an environment where there are expectations,” Canady said. “I remember when I was an SRO there was a student code of conduct that went home day one, that had to be reviewed and signed by a parent, and so there were expectations that were laid out on the disciplinary side from the school.”

Canady acknowledged that when student behavior becomes criminal, it becomes a law enforcement matter and “that has to be dealt with properly. Without the right levels of law enforcement, we get this kind of situation,” he said.

He also acknowledged that the call for the National Guard was going too far. “That’s the issue again of us swinging the pendulum from one side to the other,” Canady said. “I have tremendous respect for the National Guard, but they would be the first to tell us that’s not what they’re there for.”

Joe Hendry, senior director of Onsite Services at Navigate360, a school safety company, wrote in an email that no situation gets to this point without the underlying issues not being addressed for a long time and that leaders should be working with parents, teachers, local law enforcement, mental health professionals and students to develop solutions.

“The National Guard is not trained for this type of mission, nor should they be,” Hendry wrote. “The answer is to conduct an immediate risk assessment using outside professionals to identify not only the behavioral issues causing the violence, but potential existing physical security issues, as well as supervision of students.”

And if the violence continues?

“If we have to send the National Guard into a public high school in this country,” Canady said, “maybe it’s time to shut down the school for a while.”
Jim McKay is the editor of Emergency Management magazine.