SARATOGA SPRINGS -- The public comments sign-up sheet at the Saratoga Springs school board meeting on Tuesday night again ran pages long with parents seeking to discuss a single topic: safety.
More than a dozen parents pressed the school board to reconsider its October decision to not authorize district grounds monitors to carry firearms on school grounds, as they had for decades. That practice was stopped in the spring after district officials determined the board needed to formally authorize the monitors if they were to continue carrying firearms as part of their job duties.
The board meeting on Tuesday night didn’t reach the same level of rancor as an earlier meeting, when dozens of parents addressed the board – both in support and opposition to rearming the monitors.
But the parents still showed passion for the issue, with one speaker suggesting board members didn’t care whether students were killed and other accusing board members of misleading the public about they type of research they did leading up to the decision to not rearm the monitors. The parents, calling into question the safety of the district’s schools, also indicated they don’t plan to let go of the issue anytime soon.
Lori Wilson said that her father-in-law recently retired as a grounds monitors with the district but said she questioned whether it would be safe for him to hold the same position now. She said the fact that it was not widely known that the monitors carried concealed weapons for many years showed that they did so without incident and in a responsible way.
“I don’t know if I would want my husband or father-in-law to be a grounds monitors now,” Wilson said. “You have removed their ability to do their jobs effectively.”
David Kwiat, a parent of two Saratoga Springs students and an eye surgeon in the Capital Region, told board members their earlier decision was a mistake, but one that they could fix. He cited former police officers who have called for rearming the grounds monitors at earlier board meetings and said he trusted their opinions on how best to protect schools.
“No one has given me a satisfactory answer as to why they [armed monitors] shouldn’t be there,” Kwiat said. “It’s a layer of protection that is not going to be received any other way.”
The public comments portion of the meeting was more tightly controlled Tuesday night, with the board limiting a public comments at the meeting’s outset to 30 minutes.
A second public comments portion ran for another 30 minutes at the end of the meeting. While many of those signed up to speak had left by the time of the second public comment period, a trio of parents thanked the board for not authorizing the monitors to carry firearms.
Those parents said the district should focus on "soft" measures to improve safety, such as addressing student mental health needs with school counselors and social workers.
A fourth parent said he would be in favor of rearming the monitors if they were thoroughly vetted by the school board and were individually approved based on an evaluation of their experience.
Saratoga High School senior Margo Moran told the board she understands deeply the fear students feel about school shootings. But she said the root of school violence is a result of broader gun laws and accessibility and pointed out that many school shooters are also seeking to be killed by police.
“I'm as frightend and concerned for the safety as students as anyone here," Moran said. "The cause of this culture of fear is not not enough guns ... our starting response to this should not be bringing more guns into the school.”
Board members gave little indication during the public meeting about whether they planned to revisit their earlier decision.
Superintendent Michael Patton said the board was working with an outside organization to conduct a risk and threat assessment at all of its schools this week. He also said district officials were currently considering whether to expand the number of school resource officers in districts schools; the district’s only current school resource officer is based at the high school.
Earlier this month the City Council unanimously passed a resolution offering support to the district to improve school safety. The resolution also came with an offer to split the cost of new school resource officers, with the city picking up a quarter of the cost of new resource officers, about $100,000 total. Patton also announced a Dec. 17 public forum on the district’s safety plans.