LEBANON — A week before the start of the new school year, the School Board has reaffirmed its intention to retain a school resource officer in schools across Lebanon.
On Wednesday, the board reviewed a draft contractual agreement between the Lebanon School District and the Lebanon Police Department for the provision of a school resource officer to the school district, a sworn police officer who works in a school setting to help with school safety.
Once again, opponents of the position urged the board to reconsider.
“The school I went to didn’t have any police officers associated with our district or in our schools (and) we were doing just fine without them,” resident Kate Collins said during the public comment period of the Wednesday meeting. She said money to fund a school resource officer could be better allocated to arts programs or mental health resources for students in need.
Board secretary Lilian Maughan, who voted against the officer deal in April, raised concerns about the vagueness of the officer’s role, at least as described in the draft Okay. One section, cited by Maughan, says officers will “attempt to identify particular individuals who may have a disruptive influence on students or the school” and “gather information regarding potential issues such as criminal activity, gangs and student unrest”.
“I think language can be a slippery slope,” Maughan said. “It’s very vague and gives too much leeway.”
The school board voted 5-4 in April to authorize a new deal for a school resource officer, despite opposition from residents and board members.
A school resource officer often works in conjunction with school administrators, school social workers, and other staff, to develop security procedures and identify potential threats, with duties that include responding to altercations and de-escalation of aggression or conflicts involving students or adults.
But many residents of Lebanon oppose the program, saying stationing police in schools creates an intimidating environment for many students and increases the level of active policing in schools.
As the use of school resource officers in schools across the United States has increased, communities are also concerned about the negative impacts. Educational studies, including by the United States Department of Education and the National Center for Juvenile Justice, point to the unintended consequences of placing police officers in schools, leading to more opportunities for negative interactions between young people and the police and an increase in the number of young people referred to juvenile justice. judicial system for criminal offences.
In March, Lebanese voters passed an article, 811-650, to eliminate the position of school resource officer, after successfully adding the article to the school’s mandate by petition. Lebanon also approved the same article on the mandate the previous year, but by only five votes this time.
But the article was not binding, meaning it has no power to direct the school board’s actions.
Several citizens asked the School Board on Thursday to reconsider its decision to renew the school resource officer program.
“(Even) if the vote on the article of the mandate is not binding, it does not mean that the council should ignore the expressed will of the community,” said resident Kathleen Beckett. “Board members have an obligation instead to pay attention to this decision.”
Board member Lisa Vallejo Sorenson attempted to ask the board to have an up or down vote to discontinue the school resource officer program. But board chairman Richard Milius denied the validity of the motion because it would conflict with action already approved by the board to renew the program.
Sorenson maintained that his motion was a separate issue, arguing that the board’s vote in April was only about whether to authorize a new deal, not whether the district should have a school resource officer in the first place.
A vote to override the chair and allow Sorenson’s motion failed, resulting in a 4-4 tie.
The current agreement would remain in effect through the 2023-24 fiscal year, but would allow the school district to pay off the post from the next budget cycle, effectively terminating the program before the agreement expires.
On Thursday, board members requested additional language and language to better clarify the officer’s roles, responsibilities and boundaries. These requested additions included a reference to federal laws protecting student privacy and articulating the grievance process available to students and families.
The draft agreement will then be submitted to Lebanese Police Chief Phil Roberts for his review.
Following a non-public session, the school board voted unanimously to publicly release a letter from school district attorney James O’Shaughnessy, explaining New Hampshire’s governing body authority law. on non-binding articles of mandate or petitions. The board said it would be made public after making minor changes to the document.