Norwich – If resource officers returned to colleges across the city, they would have a long list of tasks set by school and police chiefs: improving school safety, reducing suspensions and building trust with teachers youth.
On January 11, the school board asked Superintendent Kristen Stringfellow to meet with Police Chief Patrick Daley to develop a plan to restore officers to schools.
But the concept has raised concerns. Two council members want assurances that officers will not refer youth to the criminal justice system.
As police and headteachers met late last week to iron out the proposal, the Norwich NAACP executive committee also met to voice members’ concerns. Norwich NAACP President Shiela Hayes will send a letter to the school board ahead of the board meeting at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, February 8 at the Kelly Middle School auditorium. Public comments will also be collected prior to the Board’s discussion of the matter.
Hayes said one of the NAACP’s concerns was the speed of voting at the January meeting without prior discussion. She said it appears to be in response to recent jumps in behavior problems and discipline issues, as the school system lacks classroom interventionists and behavior therapists.
Hayes said when Norwich schools had ORS several years ago, before they were phased out in the funding cuts, they were community resource agents for pupils, families and school staff. She wants to make sure that new officers won’t view student behavior problems solely through the lens of discipline and referrals to the city’s Juvenile Review Board.
“Are ORS being considered to replace interventionists and behaviorists?” Hayes asked.
Police Chief Daley, former SRO Lt. Anthony Gomes, Stringfellow and Deputy Superintendent Tamara Gloster met Thursday to outline logistics and goals for the new program.
They will offer to hire one SRO for Kelly STEAM Magnet Middle School and one for Teachers’ Memorial Global Studies Magnet Middle School. One of the officers will also be asked to familiarize themselves with four elementary schools, and the other will have three elementary schools and the preschool program, Stringfellow said.
“This year is just to get a foot in the door,” Daley said. “During the summer we will work on a more structured program.”
The tasks and goals are many, Daley and Stringfellow said. Stringfellow said every officer should be: “an educator, an informal adviser or mentor, and a law enforcement officer.”
Over time, Stringfellow will look for a decline in juvenile arrests, chronic truancy, out-of-class behavior dismissals, expulsions and suspensions. She would like officers to show up sometimes at school bus stops and on buses.
On the education side, Stringfellow wants programs on bullying prevention, internet and social media safety, alcohol and drug prevention, and items banned from school grounds.
Daley said officers could also offer programs on road safety, bike safety and especially scooter safety, a widespread problem on city streets.
Stringfellow will ask officers to qualify to train school personnel in the ALICE emergency preparedness program – Alert, Lock, Inform, Counter, Evacuate. She said it would avoid the cost of hiring external trainers for the program. SROs should also be part of their schools’ crisis response teams.
Stringfellow would like officers to wear full police uniforms and drive marked cruisers. “I want them to look like police officers,” she said.
The Norwich school budget would pay the full cost for the remainder of this school year, estimated to be between $90,000 and $100,000 from March 1 to June, with savings made on substitute teachers and vacant teaching positions that the district was unable to fill, Stringfellow said.
The cost would be included in the regular operating budget for the 2022-23 school year. Normally, officers would work in the school system year-round, but Stringfellow said police want them back on regular duty this summer to help ease staffing shortages related to COVID-19. The budget should reflect the split, she said.
If the board approves the plan, Daley will post the positions immediately. He said some officers have already completed the National Association of School Resource Officers training program. He is convinced that the positions can be filled internally, and he would then seek to replace them with new recruits.
“We’ll have someone in the ranks,” Daley said. “We have a lot of people who are interested in working with our young people.
Stringfellow and Gloster would sit on the selection committee.
Stringfellow hopes the officers selected can reflect the demographics of the district – 71% of Norwich students are black, indigenous or of colour, and 19% of students learn English.
“Ideally one or both would be bilingual,” she says.