Published Online: March 26, 1997


Boston Board Mulls Steps To Crack Down on Violence

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In the wake of an incident in which three teenagers allegedly tried to set a fellow student's hair on fire, Boston city and education officials are focusing new attention on solving disciplinary problems within the city's 62,000-student school system.

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On March 7, three boys aboard a city school bus flicked lighters near 12-year-old Cintia Pina's hair in what authorities say was an attempt to set fire to her braid before knocking her to the ground and punching her. The assault took place just a day after three Boston middle school girls were arrested and charged with robbing younger students at knifepoint.

The Boston school board is weighing whether to amend the district's discipline code to allow principals to remove troublemaking students from school buses, thereby forcing them to find another way to school. A vote on the amendment is scheduled for next month.

Currently, a principal cannot prevent any student from riding the school bus without first offering alternative transportation.

"This way it will be the responsibility of the parent or the student to find a way to school," said Superintendent Thomas W. Payzant, who proposed the amendment one week after the highly publicized bus incident.

The action is one of several that city and school officials are considering to crack down on violence.

The district is also looking into the possibility of installing video cameras on buses to hold students more accountable for their behavior.

Call Out the Cadets?

Some city officials have suggested hiring bus monitors, but Mr. Payzant said that adding such aides was not economically feasible. In January, Mayor Thomas M. Menino vetoed a City Council ordinance that would have mandated putting monitors on buses carrying 35 children or more.

"We're still trying to figure out how to reduce the budget by $7 million to get within the target that the city has set for us," Mr. Payzant said. "To put a monitor on every bus would cost $4 million a year, and that's not top priority right now."

As an alternative, City Councilwoman Peggy Davis-Mullen has proposed a cost-free way to make school buses safer. Ms. Davis-Mullen suggested that the city place police cadets on buses to intervene when students become disruptive. She said that removing the unruly youths from school buses would only force them to rely on public transportation, where they would have less supervision and more opportunity to act up.

"Having the cadets on the buses would be a great way for the kids and the cadets to get to know each other better," she said. "And what good does it do if you have a [video camera] picture of one kid striking another?"

Ms. Davis-Mullen also has proposed that students who break the law in any way attend school in a "law enforcement" atmosphere such as a courthouse or jail. She said that schooling teenagers in such settings might have a rehabilitative effect and would demonstrate that the city has "zero tolerance" for violent behavior in schools.

The City Council sent the policy suggestion to its education and school affairs committee for further study. Though the governing body has no control over school policy, it does have power over the district's purse strings.

"I'm willing to be creative," Ms. Davis-Mullen said. "But I'm going to keep raising hell until something happens."

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