SPARTA, NJ – The Sparta Board of Education is considering changing the policy regarding security schools. Sparta Superintendent Dr. Michael Rossi proposed a policy change, reintroducing the Student Resource Officer or SRO into the Sparta schools. Additionally, revised policy 7446 would allow for Class III officers to be in the schools.
According to Rossi, the Class III officers must be retired police officers. They would be acting as a police officer in every respect what in the school. They could apprehend, interrogate and arrest as well as carry a gun, Rossi said.
Board member Michael McGovern asked the vote on the police to be pulled from the consent agenda vote for further discussion. He questioned Rossi on the definition of a Class III officer. McGovern also said his concerns were procedural.
On June 26 the Sparta Board of Education had passes a resolution called School Security Program according to the policy available on the district website. The policy was not mandated by state regulation, as most are. It was created by the Sparta school district.
The June policy is a little more than one paragraph. It states, in part, “The district’s security officers will not carry a gun.” McGovern said he did not have access to the revised policy presented for a vote at the meeting on Monday until “minutes before the meeting.”
“I was a little alarmed knowing that the policy we passed in June said we would not have armed guards in the school,” McGovern said.
As the new policy appeared to be several pages in length, as displayed by McGovern from the board table, he asked for additional time to be able to read it and have questions answered. The measure was tabled.
According to Rossi, the reason for the change, so soon after the original policy was written and approved was because the district, in talking with the township officials, was just made aware of the possibility of having an SRO in the schools.
“Having an SRO clearly increases the safety and security of the campus,” Rossi said.
Sparta Police Chief Neil Spidaletto said, “Having an SRO is a great thing. It helps to build trusting relationships with the students.”
The SROs not only serve to enforce rules, they can also teach classes such as Not Even Once, Spidaletto said.
Rossi said he had been talking with Spidaletto and the Township Manager Bill Close on the topic. Rossi said the township would split the cost of the SRO. Rossi said the township would provide the training for the officer as well as a police car.
Spidaletto said, “There would continue to be cost sharing discussions,” between the superintendent and the township manager as to who would pay for the SRO and the training.
Rossi said he “hoped by next school year to have the SRO in place and to elevate the current security guards to Class III officers.” Rossi said the school cannot have Class III officers without first having an SRO. The district also must have a policy to have the officers in the schools.
Spidaletto said the two officer positions are not linked. He said the Class III officers would be employed through the township police department.
The SRO would be available to all schools while the Class III officers would be assigned to the high school, as the security guards are currently. Rossi said he was looking at the personnel that currently exists and thought “let’s elevate the two security guards to Class III.”
Rossi said, “It’s a different aura, a different culture. They will be in uniform. It creates a very positive culture.”
McGovern said, “I don’t think having armed officers is a positive addition to the culture.”
“It’s my experience that high school is a healthier place with an SRO,” Rossi said. The SRO would attend student council and faculty meetings, the dinner cruise and other school functions Rossi said.
“We could flex the [hours of] the Class III officers to be at after school events,” Assistant Superintendent Dr. Daniel Johnson said.
As the Class III officer is a new designation Rossi said he did not have any information about how they are being used and received in other districts.
Denville first district in the state to have Class III officers according to Spidaletto.
Board member Kim Bragg said she had attended the New Jersey School Board’s Association meeting on securing in the spring.
“The ink was not yet dry on the new Class III officer position rules,” Bragg said. “The ability to have an SRO is absolutely recommended by the New Jersey Department of Education and the State Police.”
Rossi agreed. “Problems go down, weekend problems go down when there are SROs.”
Sparta schools have a history of having SROs. Most recently ‘Officer Sue’ Parks, now retired and Officer Keith Hannam were connected to the Sparta schools. The program was ended when the township council made cuts to the police department, citing cost.
Rossi said he would be meeting with Close this week.
Spidaletto said he hoped to have the SRO in place sometime during the second half of the school year.