No more “High Five Fridays” at Northampton schools

Concerns raised about police presence around undocumented students, children of color

Image Courtesy: Northampton Police Department

NORTHAMPTON, Mass. (WWLP) – Northampton school children are welcome to give high fives to police officers, but they won’t be doing so at school every Friday morning anymore.

The department had instituted a “High Five Friday” program, where in which uniformed officers traveled to the city’s four elementary schools to welcome children to school for the day. But according to a posting over the weekend on the department’s official Facebook page, the program, which lasted for about two months, was recently put on hold, before being halted altogether.

The department’s posting came in response to an article about the subject first reported Friday by the popular blog Turtle Boy Sports.

The idea for the “High Five Friday” program came following a visit to a law enforcement conference in San Diego, in which “High Five Fridays” were promoted as a good way for the department to engage with young people. But complaints about the program started within weeks.

Police Chief Jody Kasper was recently invited to a school committee meeting, in which concerns were raised about there being a uniformed police presence at the schools. At a follow-up meeting with local residents, more than a dozen people expressed worries about how the weekly police presence may be interpreted negatively by young people of color, undocumented children, or children who may have had negative interactions with the police in the past. Kasper then discussed the issue with Superintendent John Provost, and the decision was made to cancel “High Five Fridays.”

Not everyone in town thinks that this was the best choice.

“It’s very important to take care of the kids’ emotions and be sensitive towards it, but I think that stopping it abruptly was not the best way to go forward,” Lisa Maharjan of Northampton said.

The NPD’s posting reads, however, that the department remains “committed to exploring alternative programs,” and notes that they will still gladly accept high fives and fist bumps if you ask for one when you encounter officers on the street.

“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,” the post reads. “For a large portion of our population, the 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!”

“I think that it’s good if they keep a dialogue going,” Alyssa Fuss of Northampton said. “I think it definitely came from the right place, from a caring place.”

No representative from the department was available to speak directly with 22News about the issue on Monday.

Join the discussion on the WWLP-22News Facebook page.

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