Lawsuits seek records on info-sharing with feds
Advocates suspect Boston schools, police providing student data
STUDENT ADVOCACY GROUPS filed lawsuits on Thursday against the Boston Public Schools and the Boston Police Department seeking records that would shed light on how the two city agencies share information on students with federal law enforcement agencies.
The student advocacy groups, which say they have been unable to get the information they want via public records requests or an earlier lawsuit, are attempting to find out whether city agencies are complying with ordinances barring them from sharing student information with the federal agencies. An earlier incident, which resulted in the deportation of a student to El Salvador, raised questions about how much information sharing was going on.
“Until we see records showing otherwise, we have to assume the practice continues. We need the records to be able to reassure students and parents that they are safe,” said Janelle Dempsey, an attorney for Lawyers for Civil Rights, one of the three groups that filed the lawsuits in Suffolk Superior Court.
The other two groups are the Center for Law and Education, a nonprofit group seeking to improve education for low-income children, and Multicultural Education, Training, and Advocacy, which works to improve educational opportunities for immigrant children.
School incident reports are fed into a database of school children suspected of gang affiliation as a result of who they affiliate with at school, what clothes they wear, and their interactions with school authorities.
An incident in 2017 spurred interest in the information-sharing relationship between Boston and federal agencies. At that time, an East Boston High School student was deported to El Salvador after being accused of being an MS-13 gang member. A school report on the student made it to the BRIC gang database and into the hands of immigration enforcement.
Sarah Sherman-Stokes, an attorney for the high school student, said he had no gang ties and moved to the US in 2014 to be with family.
Advocacy groups began asking for public records related to the gang database and protocols for information sharing with law enforcement in 2017, but ended up having to file suit for them.
At the time, city officials claimed the East Boston incident was isolated. The documents produced as a result of the lawsuit, however, revealed a different picture.
Boston Public Schools turned over 135 incident reports filed from 2014 to 2019 that the district shared with the regional intelligence center, which is housed within the Boston Police Department. In turn, federal immigration authorities have access to those records.
Neither the Boston Police Department nor the Boston Public Schools would comment on the latest lawsuits.
During debate on the Senate version of the bill, an amendment was proposed by Sen. Pat Jehlen of Somerville that would restrict information sharing. Republican Sen. Dean Tran of Fitchburg spoke out against the amendment, saying,” This amendment provides opportunity for gangs to flourish and recruit and to bully those students into joining because there are no communication between schools and law enforcement.” The measure passed 27-12.