Valley News – Jim Kenyon: Lebanese schools may have no more excuses to keep the campus cop

All of Lebanon’s School Board’s hopes of a calm and uneventful summer ended last week when the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire entered the fray over whether an armed cop should continue to patrol the halls. schools in the city.

In a letter to the nine-member council, ACLU chief legal officer Gilles Bissonnette challenged the council’s assertion that a citywide vote in March to “discontinue the school resource officer program was non-binding and advisory only. By a tally of 811-650, 56% of voters supported the mandate article, which appeared on the petition ballot.

Unlike 2021, however, when a similar mandate article passed by just five votes, the March ballot contained no “non-binding” language, Bissonnette pointed out in his letter. (A sample 2022 ballot on the city’s website makes no mention of nonbinding voting.)

“If the council believes that the votes of its constituents are not binding, we request a formal, written explanation regarding the validity of that belief,” Bissonnette wrote. “At a minimum, the Council should vote on whether the term article should be ignored. Lebanese voters deserve this information in order to understand and assess the position of the school board.

On Friday, school board chairman Richard Milius told me the ACLU’s letter was now in the hands of the school district attorney for Drummond Woodsum, a northern New England business.

After the company reviews the letter, its response will soon be made public, Milius said. “It’s not just about us and the ACLU,” he said. “It’s something a lot of people are interested in.”

If the ACLU is found to be on a solid legal footing, board members and others who think a police presence is necessary to keep the peace in schools may not succeed anymore. long time.

Why this?

In April, the board voted, 5-4, to retain the position of school resource officer, better known as SRO, until at least February 2024.

Renee DePalo, who was elected to the board in March, was among the most vocal supporters. But DePalo resigned in June, after leaving town.

His replacement, Wendy Hall, becomes the likely swing vote. Hall, who previously served on the board for six years, including two as chairwoman, did not seek re-election in 2021.

Hall could not be reached for comment on Friday.

Advocates of police reform and racial justice have been trying for two years to eliminate the post of SRO, which costs Lebanese taxpayers $120,000 a year.

A group called Lebanon High School Students of Color Collective, which began meeting regularly in 2016 to discuss racial issues, joined the effort more than a year ago. In a 2021 letter to the board, the students wrote that they oppose the “concept of the police taking an active day-to-day role in our schools. The police are not trained to deal with traumatized students.

The school district has added a social worker for the upcoming school year. But if school officials thought it would appease opponents of the SRO, they were wrong.

Earlier this month, the Lebanese Commission for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion asked the city council to support the elimination of the position of SRO “in view of the racial inequalities and (disability) that result from the presence police in schools.

The city and school district each contribute $60,000 a year of taxpayer money to pay for ORS.

But instead of backing the commission, city councilors kicked in. “I think it would be beyond our jurisdiction to make that recommendation,” Councilor Karen Liot Hill said at the July 6 meeting. “It’s not our job.”

Or in other words, it’s not our problem.

Meanwhile, City Manager Shaun Mulholland plays the schoolyard bully. When asked at a school board meeting in April what would happen if the SRO position was cut, Mulholland warned there would be a price to pay.

Currently, the City is responsible for hiring, training and paying part-time school crossing guards. It would stop if the SRO position disappeared, Mulholland said, saving the city $28,000 a year.

But Mulholland’s threats (I don’t know how else to describe them) didn’t stop there. A council member asked if this also meant that the Lebanese police would no longer replace the brigadiers when needed.

Yes, answered Mulholland. Finding substitute crossing guards would become the responsibility of the school district. “You would have to use your organic staff to cover that up,” he said.

Councilman Devin Wilkie, who is the council’s representative on the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Commission, said he was surprised to hear Mulholland bring school crossing guards into the debate over SROs. .

“I didn’t know why it was relevant,” Wilkie told me. “It’s not something I’ve heard in over two years that we discuss funding for SROs.”

Mulholland’s position is not surprising. Before moving to municipal administration, he was chief of police.

For years, cops have used scare tactics to gain public support for allowing police with guns and powers of arrest to move into school buildings. (Lebanon even gives the SRO its own office.)

Following the 1999 mass shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, communities across the country bought into the hype that deploying cops to schools would reduce violence. (Lebanon created its SRO program in 2004.)

More recent school shootings have called into question their effectiveness. In Parkland, Florida, the SRO hid outside the school during the 2018 rampage in which 17 people were murdered, and in Uvalde, Texas, police stood idle outside a classroom. class for more than an hour before confronting the shooter. And that’s before you get into the issues outside of the relatively rare school shootings — from excessive force to arresting children in cases that schools should be handling.

With one SRO for all four schools in Lebanon, I’m not sure it does much to keep students safe.

The money could be better spent on hiring more social workers. Or brigadiers.

Jim Kenyon can be contacted at [email protected]

Comments are closed.