Letter: SV School District Should Hire School Resource Officer

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Editor’s Note: This is a redacted copy of a letter that was also recently sent to the Saucon Valley School Board. PII/sensitive information in the second to last paragraph has been redacted. The author says he will present this letter at the Sept. 25 school board meeting to ask the school board to pursue this asset. The school board meeting will be held at 7 p.m. in the high school Audion room. Meetings are open to the public and may also be watched via a live stream on YouTube (click on “Watch” next to the meeting date on the school district website’s School Board Agenda/Minutes page). Click here to view a copy of Tuesday’s meeting agenda.

Sept. 13, 2018

Saucon Valley School District

2097 Polk Valley Road
Hellertown, PA 18055

Dear School Board Member,

The purpose of this letter is to ascertain what new security measures and policies the school district has implemented for the 2018-2019 school year and to offer a suggestion. With recent incidents of violence at schools in this country, school districts need to be proactive with the safety and security of our students, school faculty and staff. Unfortunately, the Saucon Valley School District has a history of being reactive instead of proactive concerning issues of significant importance. With Saucon Valley School District being the ONLY district in the Lehigh Valley that does not have any type of additional internal/external security located in their schools (Source: The Morning Call, “In aftermath of Parkland, Fla., shooting, Lehigh Valley school districts answer call to add armed security,” published July 30, 2018), I believe that the school district needs to pursue the acquisition of a School Resource Officer(s) to improve security and add a valuable resource(s) to the school district.

Over the past five months, I have spoken to former principal Mrs. Beth Guarriello, Assistant Principal Thomas Halcisak, Superintendent Dr. Craig Butler and parents/taxpayers about the advantages of having a School Resource Officer (SRO). Mrs. Guarriello, Mr. Halcisak, Dr. Butler and a significant number of parents support the idea of a SRO at Saucon Valley High School.

Special Education

The Saucon Valley School District administration building (FILE PHOTO)

In conversations with current and former members of the school board regarding this topic, the reason I was told that the school board does not want to pursue a School Resource Officer is because the board does not want guns in the school. The school board/school district have a history of being slow in dealing with significant issues that affect the well-being of students, faculty, administrators and the community. It may very well be that a significant number of key members of the administration and faculty have recently left the school district because of the actions/inaction of the school board.

The Saucon Valley School District has a negative reputation within our community and surrounding communities. This needs to change. Rising taxes, racism issues, faculty/administrators acting inappropriately, negative contract negotiations with teachers, and the questionable decision to subject the school and students to film crew for a documentary are just a few of the issues troubling the Saucon Valley School District over the past few years. With the school district involved in a civil rights lawsuit for failure to address issues involving racism at the high school, it is time for the school board to take a positive step forward by improving school safety/security and adding a valuable resource by hiring a School Resource Officer for the high school and possibly for the middle school as well.

The school can apply for a School Resource Officer through a targeted grant from the PA Department of Education for the 2019-2020 school year. The deadline for application for the grant was July 31, 2018 for the 2018-2019 school year. If the grant were awarded for the 2019-2020 school year, then the school would be responsible for a financial commitment for a period of two additional years. This would equate to approximately $120,000 to cover salary, benefits, training and equipment for the SRO for this two-year period. The cost of funding a SRO pales in comparison to the damages a school district can face in the event of a security situation on campus that could have been prevented or mitigated by a SRO. The taxpayers have seen what happens when the school board is reactive instead of proactive and I am confident that most parents/taxpayers would support measures to improve school security and climate. There are even grants available for funding security equipment and programs to increase a school’s overall security posture. Such grants could help improve physical security on school grounds and implement programs specifically designed for student and staff safety.

As an Adjunct Professor of Criminal Justice for Lehigh Carbon Community College teaching at Parkland High School, I can validate the effectiveness of a SRO. I have worked over two years with South Whitehall Police Department SRO Thomas Bammer, the SRO assigned to Parkland High School. Officer Bammer has addressed my students sharing the purpose, duties and responsibilities of a SRO. School Resource Officers are part of the faculty and have close working relationships with administrators, teachers, and other professionals within the school. The SRO not only provides extra school security and the ability to respond faster to a situation, but also is a valuable resource for administrators, teachers and students.

SROs have the ability to address situations unique to schools and use other courses of action that do not involve arrest or citation. I have personal experience with Officer Bammer on how he has helped students in a nontraditional police officer role as a SRO. SROs are better equipped and trained than regular police officers to respond to incidents in the school. They have the knowledge and training to tap into community resources when needed. SROs also have the ability to gather intelligence on possible threats to the school andor issues within the school through the development of positive relationships with students. This can help promote a safe learning environment for the students, faculty and staff.

SROs also collaborate with faculty and administrators in an effort to improve student grades and attendance. SROs work to reduce crime at the school by establishing close contact with students and building positive relationships with them. SROs also conduct security inspections, monitor crime statistics and work with local police and students to design crime prevention strategies. The ability to work closely with school administrators improves school security through prevention of, response to, and recovery from security incidents. SROs have the ability to train school personnel in handling crisis situations, which enhances effectiveness when dealing with a crisis.

The School Resource Officer supports and facilitates the educational process by providing a safe and secure environment through building and establishing meaningful relationships with students and staff and proactively interacting with the school community to ensure the enforcement of laws, preservation of public order, protection of life and the prevention, detection or investigation of crime. SROs work with students, parents, school personnel and community agencies to support teaching and learning in the schools. The SRO patrols district property to protect students, staff and visitors from physical harm and prevent loss to district property resulting from criminal activity.

SROs’ three main roles and responsibilities include law enforcement officer, law-related counselor and law-related educator. As a law enforcement officer, the SRO provides law enforcement and police services to the school, school grounds and areas adjacent to the school. SROs investigate allegations of criminal incidents per policies and procedures. They enforce state and local laws and ordinances, and when necessary, they make appropriate referrals to juvenile authorities or other governmental agencies. SROs work to prevent juvenile delinquency through close contact and positive relationships with students.

As a law-related counselor, the SRO establishes and maintains a close partnership with school administrators and faculty in order to provide a safe school environment. They assist school officials with their efforts to enforce Board of Education policies and procedures. In addition, they ensure school administrator safety by being present during school searches, which may involve weapons, controlled substances or in cases where the student’s emotional state may present a risk to the administrator. SROs assist school administrators in emergency crisis planning and building security matters. They can provide training for school personnel in handling crisis situations that may arise at the school.

As law-related educators, SROs are visible within the school community. They enhance security through attendance and participation in school functions and by building working relationships with the school’s staff as well as with student and parent groups. SROs can develop and implement classes in law-related education to support the educational efforts of the faculty. They work closely with teachers in designing and presenting law-related topics and the role of police in our society. SROs work with guidance counselors and other student support staff to assist students and to provide services to students involved in situations where referrals to service agencies are necessary. SROs are trained in conflict resolution techniques and courses of action. By initiating interaction with students in the classroom and general areas of the school building, SROs promote the profession of police officers and are positive role models while increasing visibility and accessibility of police to the school community.

With recent events in the school district, one would think that the school would have pursued this asset previously. It is time for the school board to take a positive step toward improving the school environment, school safety and security for the students, faculty and administrators.

The advantages of acquiring a SRO clearly outweigh potential disadvantages. It is the responsibility of the school district and school board to keep our students, administrators, faculty and family members safe and secure in the school setting.

I would like to see this issue added to the agenda for the Sept. 25, 2018, school board meeting for discussion if possible. I was unable to attend the Sept. 11, 2018, school board meeting and I think that the school board needs time to discuss this. Please feel free to contact me with any questions/issues.

Thank you.

David A. Repyneck

Lower Saucon Township

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