Bellows Free Academy

Bellows Free Academy is the high school in St. Albans City.

ST ALBANS CITY -- Beginning Oct. 1, police will no longer be a constant presence in the schools of the Maple Run Unified School District.

In a vote of 8-1 on Wednesday night, the MRUSD voted to remove the school resource officer program from the district

The one dissenting vote was Peter DesLauriers, who remained against the idea of removing SROs from the schools.

“With regard to security, when the wolves are at the door, when someone is coming down and they’re going to take their child and they don’t have custody of them, and they’re upset and that happens because I was in schools for 43 years,” said Board member Peter DesLauriers. “Who handles that?”

But the board vote carried the majority, and their plan is to transition to a police liaison program by Oct. 1., which will include an officer staffed at the department to be available upon request or need.

The SRO program is filled by the St. Albans City Police Department, and superintendent Bill Kimball said the program would remain in place during the transition.

The new program will be modeled after one presented to the Essex Westford District but tailored to the needs of the St. Albans community, Kimball said.

“Most of my career has been in districts that have been without school resource officers, and I can’t say I’ve seen a difference (in student behavior whether there are SROs or not,)” Kimball said. “I think it's about the system and the individuals that you put in place to support kids.”

The plan presented by Kimball also removes an officer’s school assignment and requires that they wear a casual uniform and travel in a marked police cruiser.

The liaison Is not involved in school discipline cases or behavioral issues at the school, does not monitor hallways and common areas and only provides instructional support as needed.

The SRO program is filled by Cpl. Christine Koch, who brings her therapy dog Murphy to school at Bellows Free Academy, as well as Lt. Paul Talley and officer Kaylie Cadorette.

“We are looking to do whatever the school wants us to do, but we haven't heard anything yet,” said St. Albans police chief Maurice Lamothe.

Reier Erickson, founding member of Neighbors for a Safer St. Albans and MRUSD parent, applauded the work of those who worked on the policy and said the vote was a clear demonstration the board is willing to vote in equitable policy.

“Immediately, it means my kids will feel safe in school,” Erickson said. “This will provide a level of safety for everyone. We all kind of won in this.

Erickson added that it means putting behavioral work into the hands of educators, who are trained for it, rather than police, who often become involved with it.

“I know it will be a big shift for some in the community, and I want to appreciate and respect that point of view,” Kimball said.

Erickson said he hopes to see further investment in more equitable practices and addressing holes in student curriculum, such as teaching about the indigenous history of Franklin County and its place on the Underground Railroad.

In July, an MRUSD committee created to examine the use of SROs in schools compiled 10 recommendations for the program. Those included allocating funding for more mental health services and restorative practices, conducting a district analysis of student and staff mental health and behavior, possibly adding more therapy dogs to their program, examining the impact program on Black, Indigenous, people of color, LGBTQIA+, gender expansive, students with disabilities, requiring training on topics such as bias and other district-wide mandated issues.

The committee also recommended that the district define SRO duties and responsibilities around involvement in home visits, student wellness visits and truancy cases and discuss reporting findings.

In 2019, the city paid a $30,000 settlement resulting from a civil rights complaint after a report found that the school resource officer David French tackled a student at BFA who had disabilities, Seven Days reported.

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