SARATOGA SPRINGS — Saratoga Springs City School District Board of Education members will vote next month on whether to add two additional school resource officers to the district.
During a board meeting Tuesday, Superintendent Mike Patton said he will ask the board at its January meeting to hire two more officers following a recommendation from New York State Reciprocal Insurance, which recently conducted a safety audit of the district.
Patton said the audit looked at 18 different areas of vulnerability.
“There are both comments and recommendations on all 18 of those areas,” he said.
That report was shared with various district officials.
The school chief said both the district emergency response teams and the district-wide emergency response team agreed with all suggestions put forth in the audit.
The insurance company last did such an audit in 2018, recommending the addition of an SRO then as well. That position was eventually approved by the school board.
Currently, the district employs two SROs — one at the high school and one at the middle school.
Whether to hire additional officers or not has been a contentious topic at school board meetings in recent months. Many parents have come forward to either voice support for or object to the idea.
In September, Wilton Town Board member Ray O’Conor said the town was willing to pay for an officer at Dorothy Nolan Elementary within the town.
He was one of 11 people to again express support for further hirings during Tuesday’s meeting.
The town official brought a binder in which he said he had compiled shootings that have taken place over 20 years at schools — for students kindergarten up to 12th grade — using media reports. According to O’Conor, there have been 382.
“I look at it as one component of a multi-pronged strategy, along with counselors, psychologists, early intervention and also efforts that are being done nationwide by organizations like Sandy Hook Promise and Moms Demand Action, who are trying to legislatively come up with more effective gun safety legislation,” he said.
Patton has also said that the city has offered to provide another officer.
Jennifer Taylor was another person who spoke in support of adding SROs. She said it would only be equitable to have them in the elementary schools too and said she is concerned some board member will delay voting on whether to add more positions.
“I hope that you understand that safety and security are not on a clock,” she said. “There is no pause button that you will be able to keep pushing to keep the kids safe as you decide how to act.”
There were five people at the meeting who spoke against having more officers.
Erin Leary, who has two children at Lake Avenue Elementary, spoke about how the SRO at the Feb. 14, 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting is charged with several counts of child negligence for endangering the welfare of a child for allegedly not acting during that shooting in Parkland, Florida, which killed 17 and injured 17 more.
“It has set hours, it has virtually zero risk to life and it also still has — by law — no accountability for performance,” she said. “We have seen repeatedly that SROs do not engage school shooters. They are human. Perhaps they choose this job to be with students, perhaps also because it is much more likely they will go home to their families unharmed, compared to a shift that contends with a bar fight spilled onto Caroline Street.”
Rebecca Lynch, who has children at Division Street Elementary, spoke about research she has come across that indicates that risk of such shootings could be reduced by “fostering an environment of human connection.”
“That could be done by a social worker or a school counselor or an aide,” she said. “It doesn’t need to be done by someone wearing a bulletproof vest and carrying a gun.”
Patton said the district will review the SRO job description and said there is a mechanism for evaluating the SROs that come from the county.