A reported assault on a visually impaired student inside a bathroom of the Henderson Upper School last week has once again drawn scrutiny to safety concerns at the Croftland Avenue school, whose principal was seriously injured last month after she was attacked and knocked unconscious, allegedly by a student.
Boston Public Schools (BPS) officials and a school worker union are at odds on the severity of last week’s incident. BPS spokesman Jonathan Palumbo this week confirmed that an incident had occurred in the bathroom on Dec. 2 and that students have been interviewed. A forthcoming report will determine the facts and whether disciplinary action is warranted, he said.
In a Dec. 6 letter to Mayor Michelle Wu from the SEIU 888 union— which represents secretaries and some staff in BPS schools –the assault was characterized as a violent assault on a blind student who could not identify his assailant. In that letter, SEIU 888 senior business representative Neal O’Brien described it as the latest in a string of incidents throughout the district.
“Last Thursday, December 2, 2021, at the Henderson, a blind Asian student was struck in the back of his head so hard causing him to be launched clear across the bathroom as he smashed the front of his head into a wall,” O’Brien wrote. “Due to his blindness, the young student did not know his attacker and the assaulted student’s parents told the Henderson, ‘We will not be back.’ Apparently, there has been an increased level of student attrition due to school harassment and violence which Local 888 will be officially requesting from the BPS.”
Palumbo said that BPS’s understanding of the incident is much different. “Their understanding (at the Henderson) of the incident based on interviews with students thus far varies from the severity of how the union is portraying it in their letter to the mayor (Monday),” he wrote.
A Wu spokesperson said in a statement, “Any instance of violence or lack of safety in our schools is unacceptable. The Mayor will work with students, staff and leadership to ensure our institutions of learning are healthy, safe and supportive.”
The union’s report of the assault comes after Henderson principal Patricia Lampron was attacked by a ninth grade student outside the school on Nov. 3. She has not returned to work since then. SEIU 888 produced a “no trespass” order and a school police report indicating that the mother of that ninth grade student had physically threatened Lampron’s secretary, who is one of their members, on Sept. 10.
Sources close to the BPS Office of School Safety indicated that the Dec. 2 incident was not unique, and they were hearing of numerous assaults on students across the district last week – violence that was not readily reported. A school spokesperson said in the Dec. 2 incident, a student slapped another student in the back of the neck. School officials investigated the incident and issued a suspension.
Councillors Erin Murphy and Frank Baker have asked for detailed statistics on school safety incidents and those numbers just come back to the council for review on Tuesday, according to Murphy.
Murphy said she attended a Henderson Parent Council meeting on Monday night and many parents were aware of the Dec. 2 event. She said that while the district seems to be moving forward, parents remained concerned.
“There still isn’t a trust established with them,” said Murphy.
Meanwhile, some students at the Henderson Upper School are pushing back against the union’s activities – including School Committee Student Rep Xyla Mercer, a Dorchester teen. While Mercer had refrained from comment previously, on Dec. 2 she issued a series of Tweets that BPS officials pointed out to the Reporter.
“I’m sick and tired of parents acting as if the students in our school are dangerous or a school threat,” she wrote on her official Twitter account in reference to union officials that were putting fliers on cars around the Henderson that day. “The real threat is them to our mental health by making us have to walk outside and see this.”
Mercer also said students are distracted from their studies by union members putting fliers on cars outside the school. On Nov. 24, union officials and elected officials gathered outside the building to protest what they say has been a poor response to safety inside the school.