Stevenson suggests adding Middlesex school resource officer
DARIEN — The recent school shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School has educators, parents and students around the country talking about school safety.
In Darien, First Selectman Jayme Stevenson wants the Board of Education to continue that conversation, specifically by considering the addition of a School Resource Officer (SRO) at Middlesex Middle School in response to “renewed interest in addressing school safety.”
“It starts with the Board of Education to decide what, if anything, they want to do to enhance school security in schools,” Stevenson said, after the Monday Board of Selectmen meeting at which she raised the possibility of a budget request for an additional SRO perhaps going straight to the Board of Finance at some point during budget review. “I think the community wants these things to happen.”
Board of Education Chairman Tara Ochmann said before her board’s Tuesday meeting that she is aware administrators have had “preliminary” conversations on the role, but it has not yet come to the board. In preparing the budget, the board and school administrators had not explored the option though Stevenson said it’s been a topic of discussion for several years.
“The district, and I believe all of the leadership in Darien, puts the safety and well-being of children at the forefront of our priorities,” Ochmann said.
Superintendent of Schools Dan Brenner began Tuesday’s meeting by addressing concerns over school safety, noting that to elucidate all the ways in which administrators have worked to make Darien schools safe would be “counterproductive” and potentially harmful to students and staffs.
Brenner did say he has worked closely with Darien Police to implement safety precautions and will review procedures with police this week to look for further enhancements. He did not mention the middle school SRO referenced by Stevenson.
Other districts are also looking at adding SROs as a way of enhancing security.
On Monday, just over 12 hours before a threat was discovered and a possible mass shooting averted, Westport school officials discussed the risks and benefits of adding an SRO at Staples High School.
Westport Superintendent of Schools Colleen Palmer said she, administrators and members of the Board of Education went on a site visit to Ridgefield to observe the system in place there, which features SROs at multiple schools. Palmer spoke to the Ridgefield superintendent and his staff to assess the value of having an SRO.
“It’s hard to say what hasn’t happened, but they have noted that while they’ve had school resource officers, they’ve had fewer issues in the school, fewer issues with adolescents in the community,” Palmer said.
Parents in the crowd were mostly in favor of the proposal, with many advocating for SROs in all Westport schools, in addition to Staples.
Representative Town Meeting member Christine Meiers-Schatz, while in favor of additional safety measures, worried that adding police in schools was like “putting a band-aid on a severed leg” and that money could be better spent elsewhere to keep Westport students and staff safe.
“Nothing truly shows that SROs would make our schools safer. According to the Congressional Research Service, there aren’t any studies with sufficient methodological rigor to conclusively measure the effect of SROs,” Meiers-Schatz said. The Staples parent advocated instead for better mental health resources.
“I am generally in favor of all safety, health and wellness measures, including SROs,” she said. “I fully support SROs. But if the safety of our students is a priority for the district, SROs are not enough, and to the extent that adding SROs precludes town funding for initiatives that could be more effective in keeping our children alive and safe, I think it needs further consideration.”