ConVal school resource officer approved

  • ConVal Regional School Board members discuss signing a memo of understanding for a school resource officer. ASHLEY SAARI / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • ConVal High School. (Benji Rosen/ Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Benji Rosen

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 8/4/2022 5:51:11 PM

After several previous attempts throughout the years, ConVal Regional High School is set to have a school resource officer this fall, after both the Peterborough Select Board and ConVal Regional School Board voted to approve an agreement during their respective meetings Tuesday outlining how the position would operate.

Following the approval of a memorandum of understanding, ConVal Superintendent Kimberly Rizzo Saunders said she expects the school resource officer to be in place for the coming fall semester.

Peterborough Police Chief Scott Guinard told the Select Board Tuesday that conversations about instituting a school resource officer first started in 2004. There have been previous attempts at creating a memorandum of understanding between the boards, but none have ever reached fruition. This summer, Rizzo Saunders approached Guinard to restart that conversation in earnest.

While both boards ultimately agreed to sign a memorandum of understanding on Tuesday, the discussion was more protracted at the Select Board, where members asked several questions about the amount of time police were devoting to the school, and the benefits and goals of having an officer dedicated to the school.

Guinard explained that the number can fluctuate greatly, but in 2018-2019, the police department responded to the high school 59 times, and the department responded 47 times in 2019-2020. In the most-recent school year, the department responded 94 times. The length of calls can range from only minutes to more than two hours, with the average being about 22 minutes, not including follow-up investigations that might be needed.

Rizzo Saunders said she was interested in reopening the school resource officer conversation this year, as there has been a “significant rise in significant behaviors” since the return from online learning during COVID-19, and there has been a need for more support. She said there have been campus employees who have been attempting to fulfill a role similar to a resource officer in an informal capacity, but there is a need for someone with formal training.

The Select Board ultimately signed the memorandum of understanding unanimously, and the ConVal School Board with only one dissenting vote, by Francestown representative Kevin Pobst, and one abstention, by Hancock representative Doug Southerland.

Southerland abstained as he had only been sworn in as a board member earlier that evening, but expressed support for the concept.

How it would work

The four-page agreement outlines how the job would be structured. The officer would be an employee of the Peterborough Police Department, not the district, and be paid at a pay scale equivalent to their status in the police department, paid in part by the school district and in part by the town.

The district would be responsible for paying $73,650 in reimbursement to the town, in two yearly installments. Peterborough would be responsible for the balance, or about $23,683. The reason Peterborough would be paying a portion of the salary is because the officer would be available for regular duty patrols on days when students are not attending school, including teacher work days and vacations, including summer vacation.

Peterborough Town Administrator Nicole MacStay said Peterborough’s portion of the funding would be taken from the police salary line of the current budget.

Guinard said the Police Department has already identified an officer willing to fulfill the role, Justin Hyland, who has been with the department since 2017. The department would fill Hyland’s full-time position while he moves into the resource officer role. Guinard said having an additional officer during the summer months will be beneficial, as in the past he has had to delay vacation requests in the summer due to lack of staff.

Hyland will use a police department vehicle which is scheduled to be retired, and would have otherwise been auctioned, to travel to and from the school and to attend home visits when necessary, Guinard said.

The resource officer will be available to the district during school days, plus a half-hour before school starts and 15 minutes after school ends. In case of an emergency in town which requires additional personnel, the resource officer may leave the school to assist in their capacity as a Peterborough police officer. If the officer leaves school, the responsibility for paying for that time would revert to the Town of Peterborough, not the school district.

The school resource officer must have at least two years experience as a patrolman, with a demonstrated ability to work with young people. The officer will attend training and be certified through the National Association of School Resource Officers. The resource officer may be a classroom source for law education, a student resource who can help connect students or families with other community agencies such as mental health clinics, drug treatment and other referrals, and develop programs with the approval of the school principal and staff.

Guinard said the officer could wear a less-formal uniform, such as a polo and khakis, but by state law and department policy would wear their vest and belt, including weapons.

A question about need

Selectman Bill Kennedy asked Rizzo Saunders, “Why do we need [a school resource officer]? What’s the problem you’re trying to solve, in other words?”

Rizzo Saunders said that on any given day, there might be between 800 and 1,000 people at the high school. She pointed out that any event that large in town would almost certainly have a police presence. She added that school resource officers are a part of averting school violence. In a 2021 report by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Secret Service on averting targeted school violence, in an examination of 67 cases where a planned attack on a school was averted, a school resource officer either reported the plot or responded to a report made by someone else in one-third of the cases. In eight cases, it was the school resource officer who received the initial report of an attack plot from students or members of the community.

Peterborough School Board representatives Dick Dunning and Janine Lesser, along with Rizzo Saunders, attended the Peterborough Select Board meeting, which was before the ConVal School Board meeting, and expressed their support for the concept.

“When kids are in school, feeling safe is critical to their day-to-day life,” Dunning said. He said a school resource officer was a “win for our kids and a win for our community.”

“As a taxpayer, I’ll pay what it takes to make it happen,” Dunning said.

Select Board Chair Tyler Ward said he was hesitant about the concept of a school resource officer, noting that there are communities – particularly minority communities – that have negative perceptions of police.

Guinard said one of the criticisms of school resource officers is that they contribute to what is sometimes called the “school-to-prison pipeline,” or the criminalization of infractions of school rules, leading to discipline leaving school grounds and entering the justice system. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, zero-tolerance discipline disproportionately affects Black students, as they receive 42 percent of multiple suspensions, compared to 32 percent for white students, and make up 31 percent of school-related arrests, despite only making up 16 percent of public school enrollment.

Guinard said he was aware of that perception, and said it was not the kind of role he intended his officer to play.

“That is not the objective,” he said.

Guinard said the role of the school resource officer would be to provide programming and resources to the school, and to help stop situations before they reached the level of needing further police intervention.

When asked if he believed it would be a benefit to the town and school, Guinard said, “I do. I really do.”

Ashley Saari can be reached at 603-924-7172, Ext. 244, or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaariMLT.




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