By Kassie Parisi
CLIFTON PARK — The Shenendehowa Central School District is considering bringing in up to two sheriff’s deputies as school resource officers next year.
The board of education last week discussed its plan to work with the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Office to bring in resource officers who would be stationed full time in the district, moving among schools as needed.
Saratoga County Sheriff Michael Zurlo announced in May that he intended to partner with area school districts to station armed officers in their buildings.
While the sheriff’s office is still working out agreements with individual districts, Zurlo said he hopes to finalize them in the coming weeks.
Shen Superintendent L. Oliver Robinson said the district would contract with Zurlo’s office to bring the officers in. They would not be district employees.
Shenendehowa previously had a school resource officer from the state police who was primarily stationed at the high school in 2010. That officer was paid for through a state program that has ended, however.
Shen has two high school buildings, three middle schools, and eight elementary schools. The student population is just under 10,000.
Though the county sheriff regularly has deputies posted at Shen during arrival and dismissal times, there has not been a school resource officer at Shen in years.
At Tuesday’s school board meeting, Robinson criticized the practice of school districts only bringing in officers if there was funding for them, and he pointed out that the conversation seems to be shifting.
“Right now, the model is largely based on a district’s ability to pay a school resource officer,” he said. “It should not be based on the ability to pay. In any community. I think some of that conversation is starting to heat up.”
The entire Board of Education, board president Bill Casey said, has expressed support for having an officer stationed in the district.
Shenendehowa has budgeted $70,000 per officer, based on an estimate from Zurlo’s office, Casey said.
Zurlo could not be reached for comment on the status of the agreement with Shen.
The board will take a vote on whether to officially bring in the officers, and could do so as early as the June 5 board meeting.
Casey emphasized that stationing police in schools is not the only strategy Shen has been looking at to improve student safety.
Faculty and staff districtwide have been reviewing safety protocols and going through training, and district officials have been meeting with law-enforcement experts in recent months, he said.
Some students, though, are not on board with the idea of bringing more police to school.
“I don’t think that having armed officers is necessarily the best step forward,” said Jackson Hengsterman, a junior.
Hengsterman was among a group of students who organized a large-scale student walkout at Shen to protest gun violence in schools in April, and he said he has been having extensive conversations with the high school principal, Ron Agostinoni, about student safety since then.
Hengsterman said the administration and the board of education are making decisions with the best interests of students in mind. But he added that the implementation of an armed police officer could spark other issues in school and make some students uncomfortable, particularly those who are already struggling with mental health issues, or minority students.
School officers might be successful if they integrated themselves into the school community, instead of standing at a school entrance with a gun, he said.
“We don’t want our school to be a prison,” he said, noting that a focus on counseling services and school psychologists, as well as building improvements, could do more to stop violence in schools. “I think we need to start thinking long-term.”
Hengsterman also noted that, while he can’t speak for every student in the district, none of the students involved in organizing the walkout were in favor of bringing armed officers into school.
“It seems like you’re putting a Band-Aid over a wound that needs a lot more than a Band-Aid,” he said. “We are opposed to the idea of having more armed police, but we are not opposed to working with the students and administration to find a solution that works for everyone.”