ALBANY -- The Board of Regents last month advanced new rules governing school district contracts for school resource officers, including an extensive public input process and publication of the contract in annual safety plans.
Saratoga County Sheriff’s Deputy Ken Cooper, who manages the agency’s nine-district school resource office program, said the districts' contracts, all of which have been renewed for another year, appear to satisfy the new requirements.
The new regulations – approved on an emergency basis by the Regents in July and set to be made permanent in the fall – require districts that employ school resource officers or other security personnel to develop a contract with public input from “parents, students, school administrators, teachers, collective bargaining units, parent and student organizations and community members” and other groups. The contract must outline the resource officers' duties and explicitly prohibit their involvement in school discipline matters.
Cooper said each district contract received the support of a panel of stakeholders who interviewed and helped select which sheriff's deputy would best fit in the district schools. He said that process should satisfy the updated requirements and that none of the districts involved in the county program had expressed a desire to revisit the contract process.
“That [panel] included students, that included parents, that included Board of Education members,” Cooper said. “What has a stake in making decisions best for the district, whoever you want on that panel to approve that SRO is entirely up to the [districts].”
The contracts were worked out to meet specific district needs, Cooper said, as county and school district lawyers worked out the language of the contracts.
The new state rules also require that SRO contracts be “published as part of the district safety plan,” which school boards must approve each fall, now by Oct. 1.
The Saratoga sheriff’s school resource office program has placed a dozen total officers in nine school districts, all districts in the county other than Waterford-Halfmoon and Edinburg Common School.
Cooper said the first year of the program was spent building relationships and trust between the resource officers and the students and staff of schools. He said that students have been receptive of the officers and have enjoyed questing the officers about subjects ranging from opiate abuse to law enforcement careers.
“The kids actually want to ask us questions and get answers from us,” Cooper said.
The deputies assigned to the school resource officer positions are scheduled for a weeklong juvenille justice training in Lake George later this month, and Cooper said they are open to special training requested by individual districts.
Bob Lowry, deputy director of the New York State Council of School Superintendents, said the new rules on school resource officer contracts may cause some districts to revisit existing contracts or establish ones where none had existed before.
“The first time out, if you don’t have something, or something that measures up with the law, it’s additional work you weren’t planning on,” Lowry said. “It then becomes a routine, and there is probably some value if you haven’t already done so.”
No armed teachers, maybe armed guards
The new SRO contract requirements were passed as part of the annual budget, but Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday signed a law to explicitly prohibit districts from using teachers, administrators or education support staff from carrying firearms.
Lowry said the superintendents group was not aware of any district in the state that allowed teachers or administrators to carry firearms on school property.
That law also allows districts to employ “security guards” who have been issued a state license that allows them to carry firearms on school grounds, if authorized by the school board.
Kara Rosettie, the Saratoga Springs parents who organized a group in favor of rearming school grounds monitors in Saratoga Springs schools, sent out a press release in response to the bill’s signing arguing it would enable the district to pursue armed security positions in the school. In a contested school board race in the spring, candidates opposed to armed guards in schools bested most of the candidates running to rearm guards, leaving the board effectively split on the issue.
“This new legislation will serve as a catalyst to reignite the school safety conversation with our newly elected board,” Rosettie said.