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School district continues SRO discussions

Dan McClelland

SRO public hearing_01.JPG

by Ian Roantree

School officials, headed by district Superintendent Seth McGowan, hosted a public information session on Wednesday, February 27 at the Tupper Lake High School library to further the dialogue between the Tupper Lake Central School District (TLCSD) and the Tupper Lake community on the matters of the district introducing School Resource Officers (SROs) into Tupper Lake schools.

The TLCSD began entertaining the idea of an SRO as far back as September last year at the monthly Board of Education meeting. But for many, including Superintendent McGowan, it goes much further back than September.

“America was woken up in ‘99 with Columbine. That was a wake-up call,” McGowan said. “Then there were other incidents like Parkland, but it was the one at Sandy Hook that made it clear that this is a matter of life and death. It’s just as likely to happen here than anywhere else.”

When threats were made over Facebook from a former Sunmount resident resulting in national headlines, state-wide manhunts and the TLCSD closing its doors to staff and students, it was made clear to the entire community that such an event could happen in Tupper Lake.

Over the past several months, the TLCSD has been implementing new components and protocols to their safety plan, and an SRO is only a piece of a much larger picture.

The tactical drill that New York State Police and other local police agencies conducted in the hallways of the Tupper Lake High School back in November helped the district discover many holes in their system. It also allowed those holes to be quickly filled in.

“In part, that was an upsetting day, but it was also a revealing day,” McGowan said.

The district’s safety plan, now adapted to the findings of the tactical drill, has become a model plan, one that Franklin County Sheriff Kevin Mulverhill calls “amongst the best he’s seen.”

The district is required to submit a safety plan to the state every year and it’s the help of local law enforcement, fire rescue, and first responders that allows our educators to meticulously go through their plans and look for problems and holes that need to be addressed and filled.

McGowan attributes our district’s great safety plan to the outstanding relationship that the district maintains with local law enforcement. “Not every district is welcoming of the local police departments, or state police in their school,” said McGowan, who is the exact opposite. “I’m glad we have that relationship. It’s made the conversations with Chief Eric Proulx very easy.”

Along with an adapting safety plan, the district is also addressing physical “holes” in their system. The district has submitted a small capital project to fix problems like some doors in the school not locking or latching properly which will be carried out over the next 12 months.

The district is also looking towards implementing a new entry system at both campuses to create a more secure environment for visitors who enter the schools which, although costly and complicated, is on the district’s radar for down-the-road capital projects.

At this point, the next steps that the district is taking is entering the phase of drafting contracts and considering all of the possibilities for an SRO.

The job description for an SRO varies and exists on a spectrum that can be split-up into three bands—according to McGowan.

On one end of the spectrum, there’s the armed-guard—a position that already exists in Franklin County. This guard is identified as law enforcement and their sole purpose is security.

On the opposite end of the spectrum there’s an unarmed safety education person who works with students, teachers and administration on educational program relating to safety.

Then in the middle, the role that this district is eyeing the most is someone who fits roughly in-between a security guard and a school counselor.

“We’re currently talking about someone in the high school and elementary school full time...who builds relationships with the kids from a very young age,” said McGowan. “We’re in an era of ‘see something, say something’ and kids aren’t likely to say something to somebody they’re not comfortable with.”

This SRO would not only be a trusted figure inside the schools, but also a trusted member of our community and it’s the aspect of relationship building that McGowan believes to be the key.

The district is still unsure where such a figure would come from, whether he or she is contracted through our local police or contracted through an outside agency.

McGowan and Chief Proulx are still having that conversation of figuring out what would work best. If this SRO were to be contracted through local police, he or she would be assigned to that campus building and that’s where they’d stay.

“If there was a bank robbery and Chief Proulx was short on responders, it’s understood that our two ‘officers’ would not be touched,” McGowan explained.

If the SROs were on vacation, sick, or attending to a family emergency, the positions would be backfilled from the local police department somehow, or through the agency in which they’re hired through.

“It’s not a done deal by any stretch...this SRO is one piece to a much bigger fix to our safety,” said McGowan.

The district will continue to work with the Village of Tupper Lake, local law enforcement and the community before making any concrete decisions, and will be taking feedback from the community through Facebook.