Saratoga Springs -- The school board on Wednesday night heard from a handful of supporters and opponents to rearming district grounds but still have not acted to do so.
After a long safety presentation, a small handful of district residents urged the board not to authorize the district’s crew of grounds monitors, who are former law enforcement officers, to carry firearms as part of their jobs.
“We should not militarize our communities,” said Bernard Smith, who lives near the high school.
Another speaker, who said she teaches in Albany schools, said she was more afraid of an accidental death caused by guns in schools than a school shooting.
The president of the district’s teachers union and an assistant principal at the high school expressed their deep gratitude for the work of the grounds monitors and lauded district officials for their commitment to student safety.
The public comments came after district staff discussed the district’s wide-ranging safety and security plans, touching on efforts to support students' social and emotional needs, conduct drills on a variety of scenarios and collaborate with local police agencies.
The presentation also outlined the role of 14 district grounds monitors, largely part-time positions. The monitors oversee visitors, keep a close eye on the district’s security cameras, assist in training and safety planning and work with local city police.
“My role in the district, bottom line, is to make sure everybody is safe here,” said Mark Leffler, the district’s new head grounds monitor and a 28-year police officer.
Leffler named the district’s 14 grounds monitors, highlighting an array of experience in law enforcement ranging from former New York City police officers to the district’s first school resource officer 20 years ago. Many of the monitors worked over 30 years in law enforcement agencies before starting to work for the district. One served in the military with tours in Iraq and Afghanistan; others worked spent careers with the Saratoga Springs Police Department, the state police and the Saratoga County Sheriff's Department.
“They are all professional guys, they all had long careers and they all came back to give back to their community,” Leffler said.
But the presentation didn’t touch on a key question facing the board: whether to authorize the grounds monitors to carry firearms on school grounds as part of their job duties.
Some of the grounds monitors had carried firearms on school grounds for years despite lacking the proper authorization to do so. District officials stopped that practice in the spring after determining it was out of step with state law.
At a meeting earlier this month, the board discussed authorizing the grounds monitors to carry firearms but pushed a decision back until officials could make another presentation detailing how armed monitors would fit into the district’s broader safety plans. During that earlier meeting, some board members appeared ready to approve the gun-carry authorizations that night while others pressed for more discussion.
Board member Jennifer Leidig on Wednesday pressed for more details on what kind of training the grounds monitors undergo and whether they get specialized training for working with children. She also raised concerns about implicit bias and the disproportionate impact on violence on people of color.
“Clearly, we need some kind of training on how to approach that implicit bias,” Leidig said. “I don’t want to make this personal; this is about policies and about training.”
The board did not vote on whether it will authorize some of the grounds monitors to carry firearms on school grounds as part of the job duties. Superintendent Michael Patton said he would ask the board to approve a gun-carry authorization at an upcoming board meeting, saying Wednesday’s meeting was about outlining the district’s overall safety efforts.
“The school monitor role is one aspect of a broader plan to create a safe learning environment,” Patton said after the meeting.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the president of the district’s teachers union and an assistant high school principal supported the proposal to authorize the district’s crew of grounds monitors to carry firearms. At Wednesday's meeting, these individuals did not state a specific position on whether the monitors should be authorized to carry firearms