Duanesburg to add second school resource officer, touts safety protocols

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DUANESBURG — The Duanesburg Central School District will be adding a second school resource officer later this year, making the small rural school system the latest in the region to bolster its police presence in the hopes of increasing safety. 

Superintendent James Niedermeier unveiled the plans during a public safety forum Tuesday, where district officials shared details about security protocols and recent upgrades that include the addition of silent alarms on exterior doors and shutdown buttons to implement a lockout.

“We are actually going to add an additional school resource officer so that there’s a person at both buildings,” Niederiermer said. “That’s something I really heard a lot of after the Uvalde shooting at the end of last year.”

The district has had a single school resource officer for the past five years, who has split time between the elementary and high school buildings performing routine safety inspections, meeting with students and parents and working with school administrators to increase safety.

The district pays 70% of the officer’s salary, the equivalent of about $64,000 annually, Niedermeier said in an email Wednesday.

He added the district has been talking about adding an additional officer since last year, and expects the district will pay the same the same price. Details are still being worked out, but Niedermeier said the plan is to use federal coronavirus-relief funds to over the cost of the officer with the hope of incorporating the expense into the upcoming budget.

“There is no price tag that outweighs the safety and security of our students and staff, and so it is a priority,” he said.

Districts throughout the region have been adding additional officers to schools in hopes of addressing safety concerns and bolstering community relations with police.

The proposals, in some cases, have been met with fierce opposition, with critics in places like Schenectady and Saratoga Springs arguing that funding for increased police presence in schools takes away resources needed to address issues around mental health, and that police patrolling hallways only serves to traumatize students of color, underscoring the longstanding issues in some communities that received renewed attention following the police-killing of George Floyd in 2020.

Proponents of the expanded programs have argued that additional officers are needed to keep students safe in the wake of school shootings, including the one last year in Uvalde, Texas, in which 21 were killed. The police response to the incident has drawn fierce criticism, and has led to the dismissal of one responding officer.

But critics have pointed to studies compiled by the American Civil Liberties Union that point to increased police presence bolstering the school to prison pipeline that disproportionately impacts students of color. The civil rights organization has instead urged schools to hire mental health professionals such as guidance counselors, social workers and psychologists.

The debate led to fierce pushback from residents in Schenectady last year, who urged the city’s school board to reject a $300,000 proposal to expand a community engagement officer program that would add six officers to city schools over a three year period.

Students later held a walkout after the program was narrowly approved in a 4-3 vote, and the topic became a flashpoint during the city’s school board elections last year, with the revitalized Republican party backing two pro-police candidates that ultimately won election.

The district currently has three officers in schools, who are focused mainly on building community relationships, but can respond to emergencies should one arise, district leaders have said.

Earlier this month, the Saratoga Springs school board narrowly approved adding two additional officers — one from the city’s police department and another from the county sheriff’s office — to patrol two of its elementary schools, bringing the number of resource officers in the district to four.

At Duanesburg, plans for an additional school resource officer were met with no opposition by the approximately two dozen who tuned into the virtual forum.

Niedermeier said the additional officer is critical for the district, noting that unlike urban and suburban schools, Duanesburg schools are located approximately 10 miles from the State Police barracks in Princetown, the nearest police station, which increases response times if the rural district ever faced an emergency.

“We know that our district is really far away from the closest police barracks, so it’s really important to us that we have a person that can respond to emergency situations immediately,” he said.

But the district hasn’t solely been focused on policing, according to Niedermeier, who noted security cameras are installed throughout both school buildings, which limit access to a single-point of entry.

The district is also in the process of installing silent alarms on exterior doorways that will alert administrators of an open door. The district has also installed automatic shutdown buttons and has started using an app that will allow officials to implement a lockdown procedure with a few simple clicks from anywhere.

In addition, the district has a number of mental health resources, including a pair of counselors that cater primarily to middle and high school students, as well as a school psychologist, who works to identify struggling students and provide them with support programs.

Niedermeier said the district is constantly examining its safety protocols and is open to suggestions and feedback.

“It’s not just something that we talk about after there’s been an event,” he said. “Certainly, we’re plugged into the news as much as you are, and that definitely impacts our thinking, but these are concerns that we have all the time.”

Contact reporter Chad Arnold at: [email protected] or by calling 518-395-3120.

Categories: News, News, Rotterdam, Schenectady County

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