By James Niedzinski
---- — MANCHESTER — The Manchester Essex Regional School Committee is considering options on how best to make the district’s schools more secure, and officials are “investigating the concept” of a school resource officer.
Superintendent Pamela Beaudoin said Thursday the talks are merely preliminary, but school officials are looking at ways to improve school security while also making sure practices and policies are up to date.
”The aim is to build a collaborative, proactive approach around safety,” she said.
Although officials are just beginning to look at options and resources, Beaudoin said officials are examining the idea of an academic support officer, not an armed security guard. She added that school officials and police officers have always had open lines of communication and have been meeting regularly to discuss
Additionally, school officials are making sure emergency procedures are up to date and students know what to do, should anything like a school shooting happen.
Beaudoin said another important aspect is cross-training police officers and emergency officials, making sure that Essex police officers and firefighters are familiar with schools in Manchester and vice-versa regarding Essex Elementary.
Manchester’s police Chief Glenn McKiel could not be reached for comment, but the idea is getting support from Essex police.
”My sentiment is there should be some police presence in the schools,” said Essex police Chief Peter Silva.
Silva said this would not mean having an officer frisk everyone that walks into the school, or example, but establishing a police presence whereby officers would regularly interact with students. In that sense, school resource officers could provide a level of safety in schools, while also giving students someone to talk to, he said.
He compared a potential a school resource officer to the national Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) program, in which Essex’s Sgt. Paul Francis would educate students about the dangers of drugs and alcohol.
A cut in state funding eliminated the program in Essex, but Silva hopes a resource officer could fill a similar role, adding Francis had great success in building relationships with students.
”They need to trust us, we need to trust them,” he said.
School officials are also discussing on how the position should be funded, if one is created. Silva said he would be in favor of hiring an additional officer in Essex that could work to significantly reduce overtime amounts as well as act a school resource officer. He said that while current overtime amounts are staggering, another officer would save the town money in overtime costs.
Manchester Essex school and law enforcement officials are expected to further discuss school based plans and review facility needs at the next School Committee meeting, set for Feb. 28.
James Niedzinski can be reached at 978-283-7000, x 3455 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.