Dialed In

In Boston Public Schools, strategic staffing may help reduce the number of low-risk 911 calls and prevent unnecessary disruption of the school day. 

Count of 911 calls dialed from Boston Public Schools, by hour of day, day of week, and year

Read Time: 2 minutes


Every high school student and teacher will tell you that there are good days and bad days. But what if the bad days are so bad that they include needing to dial 911?

Jennifer Greif Green and her team at Boston University worked with Boston Public Schools and used Boston Police Department data to study 911 call trends. Analyzing more than 12,000 calls from 102 Boston Public Schools over the course of 4 years, the researchers used emergency call recordings and data that included hang-ups and silent calls.

For every one hundred students, on average, six called 911 at some point during the school year. However, this rate differed by school. Some schools never called 911 and others called up to 277 times over the course of a year. Emergency call subjects ranged from mental health crises (categorized as any “emotionally disturbed person”) to complaints of physical assaults.

The Figure above illustrates that most calls occurred during the middle of the day, likely during lunch and recess when student supervision is at its lowest. Most assault calls occurred later in the day, and only 1.2% of mental health calls occurred before 7am or after 4pm. Over the course of the year, most calls occurred in late spring.

Emergency calls that are not true emergencies cost tax dollars, tie up 911 operators, and may disrupt school days with police and emergency services unnecessarily. Green and colleagues suggest strategically increased staffing—with special attention at mid-day and late spring—can reduce the number of low-risk 911 calls. In addition, community-based behavioral health services or in-school mental health providers can help students suffering from chronic mental health concerns.

Databyte via Jennifer Greif Green, Melissa S. Morabito, Jenna Savage, et al. Calls from Boston Schools for Police Psychiatric Emergency Response: A Study of 911 Call Record Data from 2014 to 2018. School Mental Health, 2023.