Saratoga Springs

Parents call on Saratoga school board to rearm grounds monitors

Speakers argue school district is less safe
Meg Messitt, 15, addresses the Saratoga Springs school board on Tuesday.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Meg Messitt, 15, addresses the Saratoga Springs school board on Tuesday.

Dozens of Saratoga Springs parents Tuesday night pressed the school board to again arm its ground monitors, former police who work as school district security.

During two hours of public comments before the board’s regular meeting, parents argued from across a seeming chasm, with many asking incredulously how students are safer with fewer armed security in schools while others thanked the board for reducing the presence of guns in schools.

“I stand here bewildered over a massive lost opportunity for increased safety that has passed our district by,” said Kara Rosettie, a parent who this week organized a Facebook group and gathered more than 1,000 signatures from district residents in favor of arming grounds monitors.

Earlier this month, the school board voted 5-4 to not authorize the district monitors -– all former law enforcement officers –- to carry firearms as part of their job duties. The monitors for decades had carried concealed weapons, but that practice was ended in the spring after district officials determined it was out of line with state law.

During the meeting, passions flared at times as people in attendance cheered comments or laughed others down. At one point, an expletive was shouted from the crowd. Some speakers warned board members that if a shooting happened in the school district they would be personally responsible for any loss of life.

Meg Messitt, a sophomore at Saratoga Springs High School, told the school board it takes her about 11 minutes to get ready for school each morning, the same window of time it took for police to respond to a deadly school shooting in Florida in February.

“In those 11 minutes students dialed 911 and begged for their lives as they were murdered one by one,” she said, describing how the shooter moved through the school killing students. “Time is crucial when it comes to emergencies; we don’t have 11 minutes. I was disappointed, disturbed and disgusted that our school’s armed security has been taken away.”

Messitt was the second of dozens of school district parents and residents who addressed the school board. When the board voted on the issue earlier this month, fewer than a half-dozen residents spoke on the issue. On Tuesday, hundreds of people filled seats in the high school’s Meade teaching auditorium.

“Why are you putting our lives in danger?” Messitt asked the board. “Roll the dice in Las Vegas not Saratoga.”

Sean Briscoe, a current Saratoga Springs police officer who also works as a security guard for the district, said the board’s decision earlier this month has made the schools less safe. He also said despite being an active-duty police officer he was recently asked to not carry a firearm during his security work for the district. He said the district has long had more security than just a single resource officer posted at the high school but that the recent board decision moves the district’s safety in the wrong direction.

“The board decision took away that added layer, it brings our protection down,” Briscoe said. “We have gone backwards.”

Briscoe also pointed out that Saratoga Springs City police were on hand for the jam-packed meeting.

“Don’t our students deserve the same?” he said to raucous applause.

High school music teacher Jeffrey Halstead also urged the school board to authorize the grounds monitors to again carry firearms.

“The equipment that they need in part to protect our students has been taken away,” he said. “I hope that they’re allowed to carry again, because a strategic team of security guards acting together is better equipped to defend against a murderous shooter than one security guard.”

The majority of the speakers said they favored arming the grounds monitors, but some parents thanked the board for its earlier vote to not authorize arming the grounds monitors. Those supporters argued guns didn’t necessarily increase safety in all instances and pointed out that the district’s recent actions had brought it in line with state law.

Shafer Gaston said that he had formerly worked as a submarine officer and that while he remembered lots of his training, he was no longer a submarine officer –- alluding to the difference between active-duty school resource officers and former police working as district safety personnel. He also said that various national and state organizations, including a group representing school resource officers, did not recommend that districts arm school personnel.

“Thanks for not thinking we are somehow a special unicorn that knows more than every single school district in the state, that knows more than every law enforcement agency in the state,” Gaston said.

But the rhetoric got heated at times as some people arguing for arming grounds monitors alleged the board members who had rejected arming them did so because of political motives rather than concerns for the safety of students.

“Obviously, they [the board members] are anti-cop, anti-Second Amendment, and they have a problem with law enforcement,” Joe Moran, a retired New York City police officer who now lives in Saratoga Springs, said after a press conference before the board meeting.

Some of the parents also told the school board that they wouldn’t forget how they had voted on arming the monitors when it came time to elect board members.

As he addressed the board, high school parent Eric Bourgeois apologized to his daughter that he had not kept informed about the board’s recent actions and advocated for her safety.

“I don’t believe anyone here can tell my our children are more safe without having the guns in school,” he said before adding a reminder that two of the board members are up for re-election in May. “In May, there is a new vote. Get rid of the people who took the guns away.”

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