A Massachusetts police department has scrapped a program in which they welcomed kids to school on Fridays because it may upset children of color.
The Daily Mail reports that the Northampton Police Department started a "High Five Friday" program in December 2016 as a means to bolster the relationships between police and children.
However, several community parents complained that the program is "tone deaf" and disrespects children of color and immigrant children who may have had negative interactions with police.
Chief Jody Kasper told the Daily Hampshire Gazette: "We thought it was a great way to start building relationships with young kids. We liked that it was something that was seemingly simple, but has turned out not to be."
Chief Kasper attended a school committee meeting in January in which several parents voiced their concerns about the program. Shortly after, NPD was asked to halt the program.
The department created a Facebook post in response to the incident:
We are aware that there is an article circulating through social media related to NPD's High Five Friday program. There are several components of the article that are false. We're not going to address each of them. Instead, we wanted to take a moment to provide some facts about the program and how it started and stopped in Northampton.
The High Five Friday program was presented at the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) conference in San Diego last fall. The concept involves police officers welcoming kids to school and giving them high fives on Friday mornings before school begins. It was presented as an inexpensive (aka free) way for police officers to positively engage with youth in their communities and to show support for local schools. We loved the idea! We reached out to Superintendent Provost and asked him if he would support the program and if he would communicate with the four Northampton elementary school principals to see if they were interested in having us visit once a month on a Friday. Everyone was on board. Principals and teachers communicated the High Five Friday plan to staff, students, and families. We went to all of the elementary schools, exchanged high fives, and even snuck in some playground time with kids.
While we received a lot of support on social media, we also heard a few concerns about the program. Chief Kasper was invited to attend a school committee meeting to explain the program and to field questions. During that meeting, a concern was raised that not all kids may feel comfortable with a police presence at the beginning of their school day. Others questioned the long-term impacts of the program and wondered if it was truly valuable. Shortly after the meeting, NPD was asked to pause the program, which we did.
Chief Kasper was then invited to attend a follow-up meeting with members of the public to discuss High Five Fridays. About 12-15 people attended the meeting. Concerns were shared that some kids might respond negatively to a group of uniformed officers at their school. People were specifically concerned about kids of color, undocumented children, or any children who may have had negative experiences with the police. After the meeting, Chief Kasper and Superintendent Provost spoke and decided to stop the High Five Friday, but they remain committed to exploring alternative programs.
NPD really enjoyed greeting kids as they arrived at school. But, as much as we enjoyed the visits, we also took time to listen to the thoughts of some school committee members, school staff, and past and present parents/families. For a large portion of our population this program may not seem controversial. However, we cannot overlook the fact that this program may be received differently by some members of our community. Most importantly, we want kids to arrive at school enthusiastic and ready to learn! Luckily, we still accept high fives, low fives, and fist bumps. If you see any of us out there on the streets, feel free to ask for one!
Response to the Facebook post came quickly.
One user wrote: "If elementary students are having a problem with a couple law enforcement officers there at their school this is EXACTLY WHY WE NEED THIS. To make seeing a uniformed officer a good thing. This is what needs to change in our world. Instead of running away from something because it's hard, confront it head on. And change their minds. And for the kids who have not had an encounter you're giving them a great first impression."
Another added: "What a shame!!! Since when should children be encouraged to be afraid of police officers...This is a great way for children to learn the police are there to help them...to protect them...The children at my elementary school enjoy seeing our local policemen at school...it's not the children who are afraid or who have anything to hide...it's their parents!!! Shame on the Northampton School Committee."