- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 5, 2014

BOSTON (AP) - Convinced that pepper spray might “drive a wedge” between Boston students and school police, Interim Superintendent John McDonough is scrapping a proposal to arm officers with it.

McDonough said in a statement Wednesday that he was responding to concerns voiced during recent public forums that were held to gauge interest in the possibility.

“The question before us now is, will pepper spray improve school security further?” McDonough wrote. “When it comes to the concept of pepper spray, we have been very much in a listening mode … At this time, we are not moving forward with a change in our current practice.”

He directed the district’s security chief to not issue or authorize the spray for officers. A public forum scheduled for Thursday in the Hyde Park neighborhood and another set for next week will be canceled, a district spokesman said.

The potential for developing a school pepper spray policy has been in the officers’ contract since 2006, but it was never implemented. Following the 2012 school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, officers suggested the spray could help them subdue violent intruders and prevent tragedies.

Other Massachusetts school districts arm officers with pepper spray, including Braintree, Brockton, Brookline, Quincy, Revere, Somerville and Worcester, the district said.

But earlier Wednesday City Councilors criticized the plan as absurd and called for more public hearings. Councilor Ayanna Pressley said the plan would not help improve relations between students and police and might actually put officers at greater risk if a student or someone else got a hold of the spray.

“I do not want our schools to become a police state,” she said.

McDonough, in his statement, said the number of arrests is “down dramatically” as the district has taken steps to improve school safety, including a $1.4 million investment in new security cameras, card readers and other security measures. In-school arrests have dropped from 464 in the 2007-2008 school year to 152 in 2013-2014, according to the district.

“I think what we are hearing so far has persuaded me that pepper spray, no matter how well-developed the policy and no matter how well-crafted the training, and no matter their good intention - might serve to drive a wedge between our students and the school police who do a great job protecting them every day,” McDonough wrote.

The Boston school system has 57,000 students in 128 schools.

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