Divided Lebanon School Board votes to keep school resource officer

  • Lebanon School Resource Officer Greg Parthum cleans up after heating pipes burst in the science wing of Lebanon High School in Lebanon, N.H., Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. James M. Patterson

Valley News
Published: 5/27/2021 7:06:58 PM

LEBANON — A divided Lebanon School Board decided Wednesday night to maintain funding for its school resource officer, rebuffing calls from racial justice advocates who favored eliminating the post.

The board voted, 5-4, during its regular meeting to defeat a motion to do away with the school resource officer, or SRO, with a slim majority of members saying they see value in the program.

Board members Dick Milius, Jenica Nelan, Martha DiDomenico, Stephen Kantor and Tammy Begin voted in favor of keeping the position for the coming 2021-22 school year.

Meanwhile, members Lisa Vallejo Sorensen, Aaron Mills, Kristin O’Rourke and Lilian Maughan voted to eliminate it.

“I believe that the SRO is a resource,” Begin said nearly an hour into the meeting, which was held both virtually and in-person at Lebanon Middle School.

Begin pointed to the types of calls to which the current SRO — Lebanon Police Officer Gregory Parthum — responds, including assaults, welfare checks and harassment.

“These situations are best and appropriately handled by the SRO,” she said.

Without Parthum in Lebanon’s schools, administrators and teachers could be forced to wait for police to assist them, she added.

Conversely, Vallejo Sorensen said maintaining the SRO fails to support all students, particularly those who don’t feel comfortable with an armed officer patrolling their schools.

“I have a child of color who will be 18, and when I make a vote today it has real implications for his future, and the way he will be seen when he gets stopped on the side of the road,” she said.

Vallejo Sorensen went on to describe an experience getting pulled over by police in Hartford where officers detained her family for 45 minutes and asked, with children in the car, where her husband is “actually from.” She said her children also faced ethnic slurs while attending Lebanon schools.

“We can’t say that it doesn’t exist here,” she said. “... It’s real. Their fear is real.”

The board’s decision follows a vote earlier this month to keep funding the SRO while an equity assessment takes place. However, experts last week advised against relying on the study to poll students and teachers about the SRO, warning that the question could skew results and overly politicize an exercise that’s typically used to gauge school policies and climate.

During that meeting, Superintendent Joanne Roberts said the School Board has all of the information it needs to make a long-term decision on whether to keep the position.

She pointed out that residents narrowly voted, 1,011-1,006, during municipal elections to approve a nonbinding proposal to do away with the SRO post. The School Board also solicited opinions from advocacy groups and residents, and held an hourslong hearing in April to take additional input.

About 10 opponents of the SRO post appealed to the School Board to do away with the job Wednesday, arguing there’s no “neutral stance” on racial justice matters.

“The decision to delay this at all, to me, sends one of two messages,” Lebanon resident Miriam Ashton said. “Either you don’t believe the students who are saying that this is a harmful position, and the teachers and the union who are saying that they never wanted this, or you believe them, but you think that there’s some data out there that will outweigh their concerns.”

Supporters of the position say the officer has acted as a role model to some students and could be a first responder to incidents on campus. However, no residents in favor of maintaining the position spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting.

The School Board meets next on June 9 for a retreat where members traditionally discuss goals for the coming year.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.


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