BU Alert System raised awareness during armed robberies

As he rushed to his systems and physiology lab, Boston University junior Thomas Loui’s phone buzzed. He checked his phone to see that a third armed robbery had occurred in Brookline, this time down the street from his apartment.

“I must have just dodged it on my way out of the apartment,” said Loui. He probably would not have heard about the robbery until much later if he had not received the alert from BUPD. “The texts are a good way of letting people who are not directly connected to the campus know what is happening.”

Loui was a pleased customer of BU’s alert system when he received texts about the string of armed robberies between Sept. 25 and Oct. 9, but other students gave mixed reviews. The BU Alert System, created after the Virginia Tech attack in Fall 2007, informs students, faculty and staff about potentially dangerous situations via text, email, or phone calls.

For Jack O’Dea, an exchange student from Dublin City University in Dublin, Ireland, the alerts opened his eyes to the dangers of living in Boston.

“It does push students to think about their safety. It really projects fear in me,” O’Dea said after reading his text messages about the armed robberies. “The text messages push it in your face: should you be taking these risks?”

Others, however, thought the BU Alert System sent out unnecessary information. After arrests were made in connection with the armed robberies, the BU Alert System sent messages stating that suspects had been arrested and more information could be found on BU Today, the internal online campus newsletter. Many complained that the alert system should not be used to update the BU community on the progress of events.

“Please stop using the BU alert texts and emails to send updates about arrests. The system should be used to provide pertinent warnings and the change in conditions related to those warnings only (this is not enough of a change to warrant the use of text),” one commenter wrote in response to a BU Today article on the robberies. While some comments expressed similar sentiments, others believed the updates on the arrests were important.

“I think it is important, after an alert concerning armed robberies, to notify everyone originally notified that suspects have been arrested,” another commenter replied. “This is as vital to our sense of safety as the original announcements. Thank you for keeping us posted, this is serious stuff.”

Scott Pare, BU’s deputy director of public safety, is in charge of sending out the messages. He said that the alert system does not necessarily reduce the crime rate, but “everyone is more aware of their surroundings” due to the alerts.

Despite the arrest of three suspects in connection with the robberies, students remain vigilant to the dangers of living in a big city.

“To be honest, I didn’t take the first robbery seriously,” Loui said. “The second one was an eye opener.”

Proposed BPS school zones criticized

The race to select a new school zone has begun, but Boston Public School (BPS) parents are not excited about the rush.  Parents, community leaders, and others during the Oct. 3 School Committee meeting criticized school officials for rushing to make a decision after recently unveiling five new plans for school assignment.

“I tell everyone to send their children here […] but how can I continue telling people that when we aren’t spending quality time to evaluate?” said Karen Kast-McBride, a parent. “My fear is that we are going to end up with a school district with children that cannot afford to be anywhere else.”

Since busing began in 1977 to desegregate Boston schools, the schools zones have been a thorny topic. The school assignment system has remained the same since 1988, even though the quality of schools and programs has changed. Mayor Thomas M. Menino has pushed the Boston School Committee to change the assignment policy quickly. Parents are worried not only about the rush to find a solution, but also equal access to quality schools for their children and displacement of their children from their current schools.

Kenny Jervis’s children, Nigel and Sophia, attend Roger Clap Innovation School. Jervis fought to keep the school open when the school system threatened to close it two years ago. Jervis came to the meeting to address his desire for the grandfather rule. The grandfather rule allows students who would be forced to change schools if the zones changed to remain in their current school until they graduate from that school.

“It’s our community. With new school zones, [our children] would be separated,” Jervis said. “I have to be here fighting.”

Currently, BPS uses a three-zone system, where the schools are divided into East, West and North Zones. Among K-5 students, the East Zone has 10,654 students, the West Zone has 8,222 students, and the North Zone has 9,488 students. The demographics range among students in these zones; according to school system statistics, black students comprise 46.9% of the student population in the East Zone, whereas they only comprise 18.8% of students in the North Zone.

Harvard University Associate Professor Meira Levinson, along with a team of Harvard researchers, recently released a study indicating that the current system distributes “high quality schools” unevenly, but the proposed plans would further increase this disparity. The study also admitted its faults, stating that it is limited in scope and does not propose solutions.

“To the Harvard group, and I have said this to them in person, we welcome your solutions,” said Meg Campbell, a School Committee member.  “If you have a better mousetrap, we would like to see it.”

The study’s rank of “high quality” may have been more selective than what most families consider “high quality.” According to the study, the Roger Clap Innovation School and other schools that parents came to speak on behalf of are not ranked as “high quality” schools, but the schools are of such quality that parents are willing to fight to keep their children enrolled.

For the parents who are satisfied with their current schools, the grandfather rule allows their children to remain at their current schools through the highest grade. However, for those who are rushed to make a choice, the options are not enough.

“Parents are saying they don’t know, they don’t understand, they don’t have enough information in terms of what this means for them and what it means for their community,” said Kim Janey, senior project director of the Massachusetts Advocates for Children. “We need to use this time and all of this energy deciding who gets access to quality education and who doesn’t and instead we need to spend this time into improving quality for all.”

Aftermath of 9/11 still felt in Somerville

The normally bustling Davis Square fell a little quieter on Sept. 11 as the Somerville Fire Local 76 firefighters and a few Somerville police officers somberly marched into the center of the square. Mourners and supporters trailed behind, some bearing candles for the annual 9/11 Vigil hosted by the Local 76 in the center of the square.

One of the approximately 50 firefighters at the vigil, Dave Pantanella, 27, recalled the effect the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks had on him.

“I was 16, in Mr. O’Brien’s business class in high school. When I walked in, the TV was already on. He said it was going to change business, change the world. We saw the second plane go into the building,” Pantanella said. “If anything, it made me want to become a firefighter more because who else is going to step up when we need it?”

Since the World Trade Center attacks, Somerville residents have gathered annually in Davis Square to pray, remember, and reflect.

Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone reminded the approximately 200 vigil attendees of the first gathering 11 years prior.

“We came to this spot to be silent, to figure out what had happened,” Mayor Curtatone said. “We still think about those in the towers, those on Flight 93, those who still serve our country today.”

Although the town of Somerville is 215 miles away from the site of the World Trade Center, the effects were widespread. Some knew people who were supposed to fly that day on a doomed plane; one of the firefighters in attendance was supposed to serve as a flight attendant on one of the airplanes that hit the towers.

Chris DeFilippo, a Long Island native, has several family members who aided the victims. Her sister spent time as a grief counselor at ground zero.

“She’s still in touch with many of the people now. They’ve become good friends,” DeFilippo said. “Being in the mess down there, she has respiratory problems from all the junk in the air. She’s still fighting them now. I don’t think most people realize that side of it.”

DeFilippo and her husband, Kevin Merrill, brought their grandchildren to the vigil to help them understand. Donned in red, white, and blue, Merrill pulled his grandkids to the square in a little red wagon adorned with American flags and a painted bald eagle on the side.

“We made a point to go [to ground zero], to explain to them what happened, to talk to other people, to reflect,” Merrill said. However, his 2-year-old grandson, Johnathan, was more excited about other events of the trip.

“I saw Spider-Man!” Johnathan shouted when prompted about his New York trip. DeFilippo then asked her granddaughter if she knew what happened to the World Trade Center.

“They collapsed,” said Jordyn, Johnathan’s 4-year-old sister. “I have a picture of them at home.” As the attendees dispersed, the firefighters marched out of the square and the fire trucks and police cars returned to their stations, and the familiar honking and shouting in the Davis Square intersection picked up. Only two small white wreaths remained next to a plaque that states, “Somerville Remembers–September 11, 2001.”

Although most gather annually to remember, some honor the victims more frequently.

“Every time I see 9:11 on the clock, I have to stop and say a prayer for those in New York, Philly, and D.C.,” DeFilippo said. “In the morning, in the evening, whenever I see 9:11, I have to stop. I have to say a prayer and remember.”