CHATHAM, NJ - Four Chatham High School students came to the Chatham Board of Education meeting on Monday night to ask that armed officers not be placed in their school.
The students, sophomores Siena Cooney, Amelie Srinivas, Emma Haberman, and freshman Madeline Boland all spoke during the public commentary portion of the meeting on behalf of the 44 signers of the letter who are opposed to the armed officers.
The Chatham BOE voted, 7-1, back in October to hire two gun-carrying Class III officers to work in the district. Chatham Superintendent Michael LaSusa had cited the 2015 Task Force Report commissioned by the New Jersey Department of Education, in conjunction with Homeland Security, which had recommended the officers.
LaSusa also noted that nearby districts West Morris Central, Mendham, New Providence, Berkeley Heights, Washington Township, Hanover Park and Denville have all added armed officers. Chatham Borough and Chatham Township police chiefs also favored the move.
But the Chatham High students did their own research on the subject and presented their counterpoints to the board.
Amelie Srinivas noted that some studies have shown a negative impact of armed security guards
Siena Cooney brought up the concern that students could get a hold of the gun the officers carry
Chatham freshman Madeline Boland related that she felt fearful when she first saw an armed police officer in her school setting
Board member Michelle Clark responded to the students about the board's responsibility to keep the students safe in the video below
The Chatham Board of Education has been exploring its options since the subject of school safety was heightened by the Feb. 14, 2018, school shooting in Parkland, Fla., which took the life of 17 students and teachers.
In the summation of the letter presented to the board and superintendent, the students said:
This is not us saying that you are doing anything wrong in wanting to protect your students and make sure that we get the best education that we can. However, placing armed officers at our school only increases the fear and probability of the unspeakable. We just know that putting armed officers in schools is not the way to fix the epidemic of gun violence in our country. We, your students, are the future, and the best way to make sure we stay alive long enough to create that future is not to arm officers in schools, but to provide other resources. Our school has an excellent counseling program already, so that is a big step in the right direction. There are so many alternatives that do not involve placing the same weapons used to commit these crimes in the building where our generation's future is being shaped. We would be happy to brainstorm other ideas with you and fellow administrators, but right now, we just ask that you really consider what, and who, you are putting at risk by arming police officers in our schools.
LaSusa commended the students for the way they comported their views but asserted that the only way to improve student safety is by hiring more security officers.
"I don't support guns in school," LaSusa said. "The question is do we want to increase police officer presence in school and we have steadily been increasing police officer presence in our schools for at least a decade. There is no such thing as an unarmed police officer, that's part of the gig. We would not take an ill-conceived route and hire a private security firm.
"We have 2200 people in Lafayette and the high school and I'd like to see more officers here."
LaSusa said that the Chatham Township Police Department is currently interviewing candidates for the Class III officer position and that one is expected to be hired in the near future.