Bellows Free Academy

ST ALBANS CITY -- A school resource officer committee from the Maple Run Unified School District recommends keeping the district's School Resource Officer program, but is recommending changes — 10, to be exact — after meeting seven times this year.

“I want to remind this committee that harm has been done in the SRO program in the past,” resident Reier Erickson said in an SRO committee meeting on June 3. “And I want to remind this committee that there is no doubt that harm continues to be done...a vote to continue this program in its current form will in fact be a vote to harm children.”

What are the recommendations?

The committee decided to recommend 10 methods of refocusing the school resource officer program by allocating funding for more mental health services and restorative practices in addition to conducting a district analysis of student and staff mental health and behavior and possibly adding more therapy dogs to their program.

They also recommended the examination of the impact of the district’s SRO program on Black, Indigenous, people of color, LGBTQIA+, gender expansive, students with disabilities, and other impacted students by directly engaging them, as well as continuing to provide safety to their campuses, planning safety meetings for students and staff and supporting students at risk of mental illness.

The recommendations include conducting duties required of all police officers by state law, requiring the same staff training for SROs as district staff on topics such as bias and other district-wide mandated issues, and offering an optional mentorship program between students and SROs in coordination with school staff to determine when it is appropriate.

Other recommendations included improving and increased communication and education about the SRO program with current students, families and staff, that the district require annual reporting on the program’s goals, performance and key data points, and that they define SRO duties and responsibilities to provide online bullying and online safety education in coordination with other school staff, according to the document.

The committee also recommended that the district define SRO duties and responsibilities regarding involvement in home visits, student wellness visits and truancy cases and determine whether these duties are best completed by a SRO or another professional, and review whether an annual report is the right timing for data tracking and program reporting or if a shorter reporting period is warranted.

“The committee also recommends the district intentionally engage the most impacted students (BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, students with disabilities, etc.) to ensure equity in addressing student needs and fostering positive outcomes for all students regarding duties currently conducted by SROs,” the report concludes.

The SRO committee also discussed further examining staffing levels within the SRO program, reviewing the physical workplace assignment for SROs, and examining the SRO hiring process to allow more community involvement, but could not come to agreement on the items.

How did it all begin?

The community study was first created in December of 2020 with the intention of examining the effectiveness of the School Resource Officer program.

Around the time the committee was formed, then-superintendent Kevin Dirth expressed support for the SRO program, though law enforcement agencies continued to experience heightened criticism and questions over whether having a cop in school was dangerous.

“There’s significant passion around this issue, and I am extremely strong about the need for school resource officers in our schools,” Dirth said. “From a community policing point of view, I think they’re necessary and beneficial...That hasn’t always been true throughout the country, and I understand that...Generally with extremely rare exceptions, we’ve had positive experiences."

In 2019, BFA SRO officer David French wrestled a student to the ground after a verbal altercation, which ended in the student being placed in handcuffs and being escorted to a cruiser.

An article in Seven Days published in August of 2020 reported that French asked the student why he was acting “retarded,” and he later admitted that he was unaware that the student had a “diagnosed disability that is not visibly apparent.”

The altercation resulted in the district paying the family $30,000 to settle a human rights complaint alleging that they discriminated against the student on the basis of his disability, Seven Days reported.

Current Superintendent Bill Kimball, whose administration became active as of July 1, was contacted but could not be reached for comment. 

To read the full report, click here.

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