William Westen

William Westen, BFA’s school safety officer

ST. ALBANS — With the recent shift away from having a School Resource Officer (SRO) at Bellows Free Academy and the arrival of a new School Safety Officer (SSO), many BFA community members may be left wondering, “What’s the difference?”

The Mercury recently got an opportunity to find out.

Principal Brett Blanchard said the role of the safety officer is to help staff monitor behavior between classes, before school, etc., in order to ensure students are safe and making good decisions.

“We have around 900 students,” Blanchard said. “So it can really put a strain on faculty if there isn’t a designated person to monitor students. 

William Westen, BFA’s new school safety officer, added that it’s a relatively demanding position and would be hard for staff members to deal with themselves.

“There are a lot of responsibilities in my position,” he said. “Checking the bathrooms to see if kids are vaping, making sure visitors are where they’re supposed to be, that kind of thing. 

Westen’s approach revolves around connecting with students and helping them.

“My position isn’t about discipline, but rather correcting misguided choices,” he said.

When asked about the difference in responsibilities between the SRO and SSO, Blanchard said the safety officer is more active, rather than reactive, in preventing harm. 

He noted that the school resource officer was usually called in to respond to dangerous behavior or issues, whereas the safety officer takes a preventive approach to de-escalate situations in order to prevent the harm from happening in the first place.

Even though BFA took a different approach by taking on a school safety officer, that doesn’t mean the SRO didn’t have a good impact on the BFA community.

“I think the SRO had [a positive impact] on the school. At least seeing the dog was a way to brighten students’ days,” Blanchard said.

Westen noted, however, that his presence is likely a bit less intimidating for students, as he isn’t a police officer and doesn’t carry a tactical belt.

“I don’t wear a uniform or have a tactical belt,” Westen said. “So I think I’m more approachable [than the SRO] as a figure around school. 

Blanchard said some students viewed the SRO as a person who could arrest students, a notion that was one of the reasons the school safety officer was brought in.

“I think [Westen] is doing a good job of trying to build positive relationships with students without being overly judgemental or anything like that,” Blanchard said.

Westen corroborated this and explained that he isn’t here to judge students or get them in trouble, just to support them and keep community members safe.

“My goal is to make sure BFA students and staff are safe from any type of threat,” he said. “Socially, emotionally, academically and physically safe.”

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