Editorial, Opinion

EDITORIAL: Somerville incident reveals deep bias in public schools’ disciplinary practices

The Massachusetts State Police began investigating a six-year-old Black and Latino boy from Somerville in November of 2019 following a report that he had inappropriately touched a white female student. The events that followed revealed gross racial prejudice among the school’s administrators and fatal flaws in the infrastructure that led to this unnecessary escalation.

Despite a green mark on his behavior chart for that day, Flavia Peréa, the boy’s mother, received a call from the dean of students notifying her of her son’s inappropriate behavior, according to The Boston Globe. Peréa was told the state would be notified, but says the dean never mentioned police would be involved, which made the voicemail she received from a detective investigating the incident a great shock

Now, her second grader has a police record.

Nearly 16 months later, Peréa is still trying to get answers about the public school’s decision to contact police. Standard procedure in these situations does not even constitute the involvement of the state Department of Children and Families, let alone the police department and District Attorney’s office, who now each have records on a six-year-old.

The accounts of the incident between the two organizations also proved to be conflicting and vague, never even addressing whether the girl who was touched expressed any discomfort from the interaction for sexual reasons.

The fact that Peréa’s son received a green mark on his behavior chart for the day of the incident raises even more questions surrounding the motives at play. It is almost as if the educators who reported the boy had given no thought to the consequences of reporting a Black boy to the police so early in his life.

This is the mindset that leads to false or exaggerated accusations against people of color and especially Black men in the United States, usually followed by disproportionately harsh punishments. A 2019 report by the Council on Criminal Justice found Black people in prison serve longer sentences and are imprisoned at higher rates than white offenders of violent and drug-related crimes.

The adults in the situation enforced such extreme escalation procedures in this relatively harmless case involving a Black and Latino child pitted against a white child, which is certainly reflective of personal racial bias, but also calls into question the infrastructure that designed the response system they claim to be adhering to.

When stripped to its basic tenets, this unfortunate situation is a direct result of the culture and policy that created the discriminatory prison industrial complex in the United States today. It is woefully apparent our public education system is deeply flawed when its authorities begin to mirror the prison system in their treatment of six-year-old children.

Of course, the young girl was right to vocalize that the interaction made her uncomfortable. We ought to teach our youth to speak up about their boundaries. But when the offender is also so young, next steps for those in charge should include educational conversations around personal comfort and consent — not a state police investigation.

By telling her this touch by her classmate was deeply disturbing, the adults in this girl’s life may be causing her more shame and distress than the intended relief. Instead of receiving well-deserved praise for exercising a mature level of self-respect, she is getting concern and pity for being the “victim” of a heinous crime.

Yet, this does not only affect the two children involved in the original incident. Their entire class likely felt the repercussions and anxieties of the police investigating a situation involving two of their classmates. 

Other U.S. public school students may also have been involved in or witnessed similar injustices in their classrooms. The continuous mischaracterization of Black men in America as criminals and perpetrators begins as soon as a teacher calls the principal or a dean of students calls the police.

Peréa may never get the answers she is looking for about what happened on the day that gave her six-year-old boy a record with the Massachusetts police. The only thing anyone can know for sure is that public education infrastructure is failing its Black students as soon as they step through the door.

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  1. Excuse me, what? A 6 year old child sexually touching another child is a sign of child abuse. That little boys family needed to be investigated and that’s why it’s mandatory to report to the police. This is not a racial issue.

    • You people are seriously sick. I don’t even know where we are in society when you put “victim” in quotations when referring to a 6yr old girl that was groped. The school did the right thing, if that was my daughter and the school didn’t notify the Police I’d sue the crap out of them. Also, the boy doesn’t have a “record”, don’t be ridiculous. You only get a record when you are charged with a crime, which as a 6yr old he cannot be in Massachusetts. Stop spreading false information. The Police should look into his home life if he thinks this was ok, but you’re too worried about what color skin he has and what color check mark he got for the day. Ya’ll are sick.

  2. let them investigate
    Waaaay too soon for judgment

  3. If the school had not reported it, the little girl’s family would be raising Hades for not keeping their daughter safe. If it happened, it happened and needs to stay on the record in the (hopefully unlikely) event it happens again. Because if it happens again, then he needs help…and he won’t get help from parents that make excuses.

  4. Adults who see a 6-year old boy as a sexual predator have deep insecurities and deeper issues with themselves. It’s perfectly age appropriate and developmentally normal for a 6-year old boy or a girl to be sexually curious and want to explore by touching. This doesn’t make them pedophiles! It is an adult view, not a child’s mindset. This could have been easily seen as a teaching moment to remind both kids how we treat private parts. The police has no place in this incident. This is so sad and frightening for any family who has sons. Please have some compassion….

    • No you’re the actual disgusting person that is excusing terrible behavior. That little girl felt violated, no matter how “curious ” that little boy was. He had absolutely no right to touch her, anywhere. Also curiosity does NOT warrant touching someone without their consent, I dont care what age you are. I really hope you dont have children, because if you do I sympathize with any child that comes in contact with yours especially when you have such a lax attitude when it comes to sexual harassment.> Apparently to you , just because its kids that makes it excusable. Grow up .

  5. This little girl did exactly what any good parent would teach our children to do! She “told” when she was touched in a way that made her feel uncomfortable . Seems they are trying to make her out to be in the wrong and the boy that touched her to be in the right?! Also we need to stop making everything about race. I would feel the same no matter the race! This could be a great opportunity to teach the little boy about the difference between good touches & bad. Also to praise the little girl about going to a trusted adult when she felt violated. We have no right to downplay what she felt. Do I think the little boy should be locked up? Of course not…but at the same time to excuse his behavior would not be doing him any favors either.

  6. I do not believe a 6-year old should be given a police record for this behavior. It should never have escalated to a police investigation. Instead, it should have stayed at the school level, where should have been a very firm warning, along with a meeting with all parents and appropriate school administrators and counselors. This is now way out of proportion to what happened. The school district needs to change its protocol on such cases of very young children. Common sense is totally absent. My heart goes out to all people involved.