By Marjorie Nesin
---- — Gloucester school officials have squeezed a school resource officer for Gloucester High School into their proposed budget for fiscal 2014 in the wake of months of public discourse over safety in city schools that bubbled up after the December elementary school shootings in Newtown, Conn., took the lives of 20 students and six adults.
The high school was the only of Gloucester’s schools to submit a budget with the inclusion of a resource officer to the school committee, shuffling around other aspects of the budget and adding the resource officer position to the budget without increasing the budget.
”It’s something that we’re going to do by moving things around at the high school,” School Committee Chairman Jonathan Pope said Tuesday. “The good thing is it’s revenue neutral so its not going to be something that requires a funding source.”
Though the precise details of implementing an officer — including whether or not the officer will be armed, have yet to be decided — the School Committee will present the $55,000 budgetary allowance for a resource officer at their already slated public budget hearing tonight at the Gloucester High School lecture hall, beginning at 7 p.m., according to Superintendent Richard Safier.
“It’s actually still a work in progress,” Safier said, noting that the officer may not necessarily be a member of the Gloucester Police Department. “At this point, we’re weighing our options. If it were to be a police officer, it would also be someone who could be a liaison to the rest of the district, somebody who can work with some of our students to provide support for them, somebody who can talk about certain programs, making good decisions, drug and alcohol awareness for example.”
Some attendees at a public hearing on the issue last Wednesday supported the idea of implementing a resource officer, as long as that officer was unarmed. Others said they would rather the officer carry a gun and some opposed any plans to bring in an officer at all.
One child therapist, David Graham, said the presence of a guard can cause children to feel implicitly unsafe and consequently hinder their learning.
“One of the things that I see is having an armed guard in the school is messaging to the kids you’re not safe, you need an armed guard to protect you,” Graham said. “Look at places that have guns. What happens? Accidents, unintentional consequences. What chance is an armed guard with a handgun against a man with armor and an assault weapon?”
Police Chief Leonard Campanello had kicked off the public hearing by expressing that he thinks placing an armed police officer in each school would be unnecessary, and that there are still other steps to take — like securing school infrastructure first.
“I am not for having an armed police officer in every school. I don’t think we’re at that step yet, but I think it’s great that the dialogue has been opened up,” Campanello said the following day.
Amanda Kesterson, the woman who had petitioned the School Committee to hold last week’s public discussion, noted Tuesday that various viewpoints on all sides of the issue had contributed to a productive conversation at the public hearing, and said she was pleased with the high school’s decision to create a compromise of some of the ideas provided by residents.
“It was a really great discussion and only good could come out of having that type of discussion,” Kesterson said. “I’m very gratified by the way it’s all gone, and I hope it leads to safer schools. That’s the goal.”
Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at email@example.com.