After several previous attempts over the years, ConVal Regional High School is expected to have a School Resource Officer this fall, after the Peterborough Select Board and ConVal Regional School Board voted to approve an agreement at their respective meetings on Tuesday outlining the operation of the post. .
Following the approval of a memorandum of understanding, ConVal Superintendent Kimberly Rizzo Saunders said she expects the School Resource Officer to be in place for the upcoming fall semester.
Peterborough Police Chief Scott Guinard told the Select Board on Tuesday that conversations about creating a school resource officer began in 2004. There have been previous attempts to create a memorandum of understanding between advice, but none ever came to fruition. This summer, Rizzo Saunders approached Guinard to get this conversation going in earnest.
Although the two councils finally agreed to sign a memorandum of understanding on Tuesday, the discussion was longer in the select committee, where members asked several questions about the time the police were spending at the school, as well as the benefits and objectives of having an agent. dedicated to school.
Guinard explained that the number can vary widely, but in 2018-19 the police department responded to the high school 59 times and the department responded 47 times in 2019-20. During the past school year, the department responded 94 times. Call durations can range from a few minutes to over two hours, with the average being around 22 minutes, not including any follow-up inquiries that may be required.
Rizzo Saunders said she was interested in reopening the school resource officer conversation this year, as there has been a “significant increase in meaningful behaviors” since online learning returned during COVID-19, and it there was a need for more support. She said there have been campus employees who have attempted to fulfill a role similar to a resource officer in an informal capacity, but there is a need for someone with formal training.
The Select Board ultimately signed the MOU unanimously, and the ConVal School Board with one dissenting vote, by Francestown Rep. Kevin Pobst, and one abstention, by Hancock Rep. Doug Southerland.
Southerland abstained as he had only been sworn in as a council member earlier in the evening, but expressed support for the concept.
How it would work
The four-page agreement outlines how the work would be structured. The officer would be an employee of the Peterborough Police Department, not the district, and would be paid on a pay scale equivalent to their status with the police department, paid in part by the school district and in part by the city.
The district would be responsible for reimbursing $73,650 to the city, in two annual installments. Peterborough would be responsible for the balance, approximately $23,683. The reason Peterborough would pay part of the salary is that the officer would be available for regular patrols on days when pupils are not attending school, including teachers’ working days and holidays, including school holidays. ‘summer.
Peterborough City Administrator Nicole MacStay said Peterborough’s portion of the funding would come from the police pay line of the current budget.
Guinard said the police department has already identified an officer ready to fill the role, Justin Hyland, who has worked for the department since 2017. The department would fill Hyland’s full-time position while he serves as an officer. of resources. Guinard said having an extra agent during the summer months would be beneficial, as in the past he has had to delay requests for summer vacations due to understaffing.
Hyland will use a police department vehicle that is set to be retired and would otherwise have been auctioned off, to get to and from school and to attend house calls if needed, Guinard said.
The Resource Officer will be available to the district during school days, plus half an hour before school starts and 15 minutes after school ends. In the event of an emergency in town requiring additional personnel, the Resource Officer may leave the school to assist in their capacity as Peterborough Police Officer. If the officer leaves the school, the responsibility to pay for that time would fall to the City of Peterborough, not the school district.
The school resource worker must have at least two years of experience as a patroller, with a demonstrated ability to work with young people. The officer will be trained and certified by the National Association of School Resource Officers. The Resource Officer can be a classroom source for legal education, a student resource that can help connect students or families with other community agencies such as mental health clinics, treatment for substance abuse and other references, and develop programs with the approval of the principal and school staff. .
Guinard said the officer could wear a less formal uniform, such as a polo shirt and khakis, but according to state law and department policy, he would wear his waistcoat and belt, including the weapons.
A question about need
Coach Bill Kennedy asked Rizzo Saunders: ‘Why do we need [a school resource officer]? What is the problem you are trying to solve, in other words? »
Rizzo Saunders said that every day there could be between 800 and 1,000 people in high school. She pointed out that any such major event in town would almost certainly have a police presence. She added that school resource officers are part of school violence prevention. In a 2021 report by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Secret Service on Preventing Targeted School Violence, in a review of 67 cases where a planned attack on a school was averted, a school resource officer reported conspiracy or responding to a report made by someone else in a third of the cases. In eight cases, it was the school resource worker who received the initial report of a plot to attack by students or community members.
Peterborough School Board representatives Dick Dunning and Janine Lesser, along with Rizzo Saunders, attended the Peterborough Select Board meeting, which took place before the ConVal School Board meeting, and expressed their support for the concept.
“When children are in school, feeling safe is essential to their daily lives,” Dunning said. He said a school resource officer was “a win for our kids and a win for our community.”
“As a taxpayer, I will pay whatever it takes to make this happen,” Dunning said.
Board chairman Tyler Ward said he was hesitant about the concept of a school resource officer, noting that there are communities – especially minority communities – that have a negative perception of the police. .
Guinard said one of the criticisms of school resource officers is that they contribute to what is sometimes called the “school-to-jail pipeline,” or the criminalization of violations of school rules, leading to discipline leaving school grounds and entering the justice system. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, zero-tolerance discipline disproportionately affects black students, as they receive 42% of multiple suspensions, compared to 32% for white students, and account for 31% of school-related arrests, although they represent only 16% of enrollment in public schools.
Guinard said he was aware of this perception and said it was not the kind of role he wanted his officer to play.
“That’s not the goal,” he said.
Guinard said the role of the school resource officer would be to provide programs and resources to the school and help stop situations before they reach the level requiring further police intervention.
When asked if he thought it would be a benefit to the town and the school, Guinard replied, “Yes. I really do.”
Ashley Saari can be reached at 603-924-7172 ext. 244, or [email protected] She’s on Twitter @AshleySaariMLT.