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Saratoga Springs schools may rearm grounds monitors

Saratoga Springs schools may rearm grounds monitors

Former cops were in violation of state law
Saratoga Springs schools may rearm grounds monitors
Michael Patton, Saratoga Springs City Schools superintendent, talks in his office earlier this year.
Photographer: Marc Schultz

Editor's note: This story was corrected at 3:17 p.m. on Sept. 12, 2018. A previous version incorrectly stated when the board plans to again consider the issue of arming grounds monitors. The board delayed a decision on the measure until after another board presentation on the issue can take place.

SARATOGA SPRINGS -- Saratoga Springs City School District officials are considering arming as many as 10 former police officers who now work on district staff.

The former officers, who over the years have migrated to the district after retiring from the city Police Department, work as grounds monitors who patrol school campuses and buildings, assist in student arrival and dismissal and provide security for after-school activities.

If the board signs off, they may soon carry guns at work again; many of the grounds monitors had been carrying guns on school grounds in violation of state law until as recently as the spring.

For as long as three decades, district officials acknowledged Tuesday night, monitors had carried guns while on school grounds until last spring, when district officials determined they were in violation of state law. The law requires the board to authorize anyone who carries a gun on school grounds.

“We are in a unique position as a school district to have these individuals who have a great amount of experience in law enforcement who are already working in the district,” Superintendent Michael Patton said during the Tuesday board meeting.

The board appeared evenly split over the question, with some board members arguing the board should pass the authorizations at the meeting, while other members pressed for more information about how the positions would work and raising concerns with the idea. While some board members said they were ready to vote in favor of the plan Tuesday, the board ultimately approved delaying a decision until after another board presentation on the issue can take place.

Some board members pointed to the history of the former officers carrying guns while on school grounds as a rationale for authorizing the monitors to carry firearms, arguing otherwise the district would be taking a step backwards.

“We’ve had these people,” said board Vice President Stephen Verral. “What we are actually voting on is to kind of continue what we’ve been doing.”

But other board members raised a litany of questions about how the grounds monitors work with the school resource officer, whether other districts allow school security staff to carry guns and how the job description would change.

They also raised concerns about potential implicit bias against minority students and expressed general resistance to the notion of allowing more guns on school grounds.

“My home base is I do not believe more guns make us safer,” said board member Jennifer Leidig. “That’s my home base.”

Board member Heather Reynolds raised questions about how the positions fit into the district’s broader safety strategy and what the district’s security needs are given its size and demographics.

“What do we need?” she said. “Do we need nine people armed on our campuses every day?”

After the board finished its discussion, Caroline Elementary School Principal Dan Packard said as someone who constantly worries about students he would welcome armed grounds monitors in his school.

“I want them here when I have 400 kids and I worry about their safety,” he said.

The board discussion comes as districts around the region partner with local police and sheriff’s departments to deploy school resource officers in schools. In Saratoga County, around a dozen sheriff’s deputies started the year as school-based resource officers this fall.

The Saratoga Springs district has long housed a Saratoga Spring city police officer at the high school. The district was one of the few in the region to maintain a resource officer through the past decade as many district that used to have a resource officer had to cut the positions when state funding dried up.

After yet another deadly school shooting, this one in Florida, thrust school safety to the top of school board agendas around the country, Capital Region districts moved quickly to tighten security measures and contract for resource officers.

At Tuesday’s Saratoga school board meeting, an attorney for the district told the board members they would be the only district in the region that authorized district employees to carry guns if they moved forward.

 

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