, Gloucester, MA

March 26, 2013

Editorial: City schools should develop police resource program

Gloucester Daily Times

---- — In the second of two My View columns that have appeared in the Times in recent days, Superintendent of Schools Richard Safier emphasized that the most important factor in helping students and parents feel safe about their schools is the school environment itself. And he’s absolutely right.

But in the run-up to a Wednesday night public hearing on Gloucester school safety and security (see news story, Page 1), Safier and other local school and city officials have essentially suggested that there’s no need for any security boost — at all. And there are plenty of arguments to suggest that’s not the case.

Yes, Gloucester Police Chief Leonard Campanello has appointed a school liaison for school officials to contact if needed. But Gloucester schools have no traditional resource officers, no day-to-day interaction with police at all. And even before the horrific December shootings at Newtown, Conn.’s, Sandy Hook Elementary School, that should have raised some questions as to whether the schools and city police were missing some golden opportunities to build better relationships among police, students and parents, while providing a better and surer sense of safety and security in the process.

The public hearing, being hosted by the School Committee and scheduled because of a gutsy petition drive by school parent Amanda Kesterson in the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings, calls for placing armed security guards in all of Gloucester’s schools, from the five current elementary schools to O’Maley Middle School and Gloucester High. And, at a projected cost of some $600,000 annually, that’s not sustainable — even if the city could land some of the federal school safety aid President Obama has promised for stepped-up school security programs.

But city officials and School Committee members — two of whom, Roger Garberg and Kathy Clancy, voted against even opening the door to Wednesday night’s hearing — should hear the calls tomorrow of parents and others truly concerned about children’s safety. And they should consider the likely gains that the district and the city could achieve by at least calling on police to perhaps install a resource officer at Gloucester High School, another at O’Maley, and a third who could rotate among the elementary schools.

That type of program would enable the officers to get to know the students and vice versa; it would also lend a level of deterrence to students who might step badly out of line, especially at the high school and middle school levels, and it could often provide an immediate and on-site resource to support teachers if and when they have to deal with cases of bullying and other in-school issues.

It’s frankly hard to believe that, if Gloucester High School had a regular resource officer who knew and worked with students on a daily basis, he or she may not have recognized and handled the December rumor of a threat that a student was bringing a gun to school – before the rumor brought frightened parents rushing to the school to pull their kids out of class. And while we’ll never know, we’d like to think that, if pupils and teachers had some regular interaction with a rotating resource officer, we may not have had a case of a couple or more West Parish kids breaking away from the school district’s supposedly supervised after-school program and “acting inappropriately” last month — forcing an immediate shutdown the program, an urgent parents’ meeting with Safier, Campanello and Mayor Carolyn Kirk, the ouster of the program supervisors, and still-ongoing investigations by city police, the District Attorney’s Office, and the state’s Department of Children and Families.

To some extent, some school officials have seemingly circled the wagons against Kesterson’s petition, suggesting that they and only they know what’s best when it comes to school safety and security. That’s just plain wrong. Her petition has opened the door to what should be fruitful discussions Wednesday night, and all sides should weigh in with open minds regarding a potential resource officer program and potential sources that can provide funding for it.

School officials seem to be going to great lengths to suggest that there’s plenty of security in our schools, and there’s no need for any more.

The fact is, there can never be enough if there are viable options for more. And a meaningful resource officer program would do precisely that.