Student Advocacy Groups Sue BPS and BPD for Records on Information Sharing With ICE

Education, Immigrant Rights

Student Advocacy Groups Sue Boston Schools, Police Department to Uncover Records Showing Student Information-Sharing With ICE

As police reform takes center stage at the national, state, and local levels, the Center for Law and Education, Inc. (CLE), Multicultural Education, Training, and Advocacy, Inc. (META), and Lawyers for Civil Rights (LCR) are filing two companion lawsuits in Suffolk Superior Court today against Boston Public Schools (BPS) and the Boston Police Department (BPD), in a continuing fight to uncover documents showing how the agencies share student information with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) via the Boston Regional Intelligence Center (BRIC).

This is not the first time the student advocacy groups have had to sue the City to obtain records in connection with BPS’ entanglement with ICE, and the efforts have now taken on renewed urgency in light of police reform initiatives currently under discussion in the State Legislature and at BPS. In 2017, an East Boston High School student was deported based in part on a BPS discipline report documenting a run-of-the-mill school incident—a failed attempt by students to start a fight. The student advocacy groups submitted a public records request to determine the extent of student information sharing but were forced to initiate litigation in order to obtain the records. At the time, BPS and the City claimed the East Boston incident was isolated. The documents produced as a result of that litigation, however, revealed a longstanding practice of BPS-ICE entanglement, evidenced by at least 135 school incident reports being made available to ICE via the BRIC between 2014 and 2019, school incident reports being only one of multiple tools used to transmit information to BRIC.

BPS has continued to shield documents from public view, relying on narrow definitions and claiming that only BPD has custody of certain records. The organizations attempted to obtain records that fell outside of BPS’s narrow definition of “school incident report” as part of their initial litigation—which remains ongoing—in order to minimize strain on City and judicial resources. Counsel for BPS, however, directed the student advocacy groups to submit a new public records request, which they did nearly six months ago, and to which BPS has failed to respond. Today’s lawsuits—one targeting BPS and the other targeting BPD—are designed to eliminate this finger-pointing and secure information that the agencies continue to withhold. 

“On the heels of Mayor Marty Walsh’s declaration that racism is a public health crisis, it is critical that BPS and BPD turn over these public records in light of pending police accountability legislation that will impact police presence in schools and recent BPS discussions around student privacy,” said Roger Rice, Executive Director of META.

“The public has a right to know the extent to which schools are sharing information of school children via the BRIC, particularly in this new era of national heightened public scrutiny of police, with urgent calls for accountability to the public which they serve,” said Kathleen Boundy, Co-Director of CLE.

“We want transparency. This is vital, especially given the urgent conversations around BPS’ Student Privacy Policy,” said Janelle Dempsey of LCR. “The Cassellius administration has an opportunity here to solidify its commitment to addressing the deeply-rooted systemic racial issues the Superintendent inherited when she took office last year,” added Dempsey.

“Information sharing practices and policies are scaring students and their parents,” said Alan Jay Rom of META. “Being a student is hard work, especially for immigrants, many of whom do not speak English. Rather than having policies that are welcoming to these communities, the collective actions of City government are frightening the very people they purport to ‘educate,’ and they won’t even be transparent about what they are deliberately doing,” Rom added.

The complaints against BPS and BPD can be found here and here, respectively.