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Armed officers are ‘false positive’ for school safety, state education commissioner says

Armed officers are ‘false positive’ for school safety, state education commissioner says

Funding for schools continues to be sticking point as state budget looms
Armed officers are ‘false positive’ for school safety, state education commissioner says
NYS Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia
Photographer: Marc Schultz/Gazette Photographer

State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia told lawmakers on Wednesday the belief that a school resource officer in every school building will keep students safe is a “false positive.”

She said keeping schools safe hinges on a broader set of factors, including more secure building entrances. But she also said looking for ways to create a positive climate in schools, where students feel comfortable and supported, is critical.

“School safety incorporates a number of different areas, and thinking that having a single person on a campus makes it safe is really, I think, a false positive,” Elia said during a joint legislative hearing on the governor’s budget proposal for K-12 schools.

She highlighted efforts to train teachers and school staff in ways to help students improve the school climate, while noting the importance of coordinating safety programs with local law enforcement agencies.

“There is no one magic way to make sure every school is safe,” she said. “If you do have someone that is on your campus as an officer, they have to be trained and they have to be very, very focused on the appropriate environment of a campus that has children.”

Elia’s comments came in response to a direct question from Assemblywoman Mary Beth Walsh, R-Ballston, who asked whether Elia supports funding to get resource officers into every school in the state. School resource officers are armed.

“School resource officers who are trained law enforcement officers should be in every school across the state to help ensure the safety of our students,” Walsh said. “Not only are school resource officers helpful in times of crisis, but to be a positive presence at schools.”

After questioning Elia, Walsh said she supports state funding to put a school resource officer in every school in the state and argued Democrats in the majority are too focused on offering broad gun restrictions as a solution to school security. 

"We want a real sense of actual security," Walsh said. "Some of that is locks, some of that's low- to no-cost things, but sometimes it's people within the school that can keep an eye open." 

In her testimony, Elia didn't touch on the movement in some districts to arm school staff -- former officers hired as school security personnel -- but Walsh said she supported parents in Sarartoga Springs who have called for rearming district grounds monitors.

"I am not troubled by the idea that people who have gone through appropriate training and who have a license to carry that wish to provide their expertise to provide a safer school environment, I see the merits of that," Walsh said. 

During her testimony before lawmakers, which by noon had stretched into its third hour, Elia also said the governor’s proposed increase in education aid fell short of schools' needs. She said districts were “owed” more than $4 billion under a state education funding formula that Gov. Andrew Cuomo has sought to downplay. Democratic lawmakers have asserted that formula is key to supporting schools.

The budget proposal from the Board of Regents called for boosting foundation aid, the funding formula, by $1.66 billion this year as a first step toward boosting aid by more than $4 billion over three years.

Cuomo’s budget proposal would boost foundation aid by less than $400 million.

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