SOMERS, N.Y.-The 2018-19 Somers Central School District budget will include funding for two additional school resource officers, a move strongly supported by parents in the wake of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., on Feb. 14.
At a school board meeting on March 20, more than a dozen parents spoke about the need to have an officer at each school. Right now, there are two school resource officers (SROs) who move among the district’s four buildings.
The SROs are members of the Westchester County Police trained specifically to work in a school environment. In addition, state troopers and officers from the Somers Police Department frequently patrol the campuses during and after school hours.
Bringing in additional SROs is only one piece of the puzzle when it comes to making schools safer, but Superintendent Dr. Raymond Blanch said some of the initiatives are being held up by the state.
“I met with them [the students] after the shooting in Florida and I have to say, it was probably one of the most difficult conversations I’ve had,” Blanch said. “To think, our children are wondering, what would they do if something like that happened in our schools? I didn’t know what to say other than to say, ‘I’m sorry as an adult in our community and as an adult in our country.’ ”
As part of a $13.6 million voter-approved capital project, security vestibules will be constructed at Primrose and Somers Middle School along with the addition of security cameras, but that project won’t be completed until next summer. The district also will install a telephone system giving each classroom the ability to reach 9-1-1 and for 9-1-1 to know the exact classroom the call is coming from.
However, Ken Crowley, district assistant superintendent, said the district doesn’t have state approval yet for these projects and it could be “punished” by moving ahead.
Also, there are no officers with the Westchester County Police currently trained to work in an SRO capacity.
“They have a process that they have to go through and the indications are yes, they could supply additional SROs for next year,” Crowley said. “There was also a question of, can we get them for this year? That won’t be feasible. They have a small supply of substitute SROs, so they’re telling us to look at September as opposed to April or May.”
Crowley said he looked into whether in the interim the school could contract with a security agency or retired military personnel, but he said it would be difficult to do that with the school’s insurance plan. Plus, those individuals wouldn’t have access to all the resources an SRO has. He said he reached out to the state police and Somers police; neither has the resources to assign an officer to the schools.
The district is also considering having an outside company do a security audit of the buildings to see where else safety could be improved.
In addressing the board, many parents spoke of the school shooting in Maryland–which occurred earlier on the day of the Somers school board meeting–where an SRO shot and killed the student with the gun less than one minute after two students were shot.
“Look at what happened today in Maryland. There was an armed resource officer and the threat was terminated because of the SRO,” parent Bob Ondrovic said. “An awful lot of children are safe because they have the armed resource officer.”
Another parent, Judy Manning, told the board that having the two SROs split time among four buildings puts students in jeopardy.
“On any given morning, 500 to 1,000 kids are left vulnerable entering a building without adequate safety measures,” Manning said. “What we are asking is to have equal protection for all of our children.”
She said it would provide peace of mind for parents and students.
“I do not want to be the person who could have done something to possibly prevent a violent attack on a building had only the SRO not been at the other one at that moment in time,” Manning said. “As we have sadly witnessed, it only takes seconds for dozens or more precious lives to be lost.”
Donna Pascucci said she wants to feel confident that the district is protecting its students.
“We only need to look at the school shooting that occurred just this morning in Maryland, that was stopped by an SRO stationed inside the school. Ponder this–what would have happened if this happened in Somers? How many of our precious children’s lives would have been lost before that SRO was able to get across campus, find the shooter and respond?” Pascucci said. “God willing it will never be Somers, but if it is, we owe it to our children to be prepared.”
School board President Sarena Meyer encouraged parents to share their passion for hiring additional SROs with the community, which will vote on the school budget on May 15. A hearing on the budget will be held May 8.