In a community forum held Monday night on Zoom, the Milton Town School District’s School Resource Officer (SRO) Committee acknowledged that most Milton community members value having a police officer in the schools.
Formed early this fall, the 19-member committee was tasked with determining if changes or adjustments should be made to ensure the SRO meets the needs of all students.
An SRO was first stationed in MTSD in 2004, when a national grant funded the position until 2007. After the school shooting in Sandy Hook, CT in 2012, a sense of urgency established a more permanent SRO position in 2013.
Since 2018, Officer Kendra Raymond has been the district’s SRO. MTSD pays for the position, which costs about $75,000. Superintendent Amy Rex made it clear that this discussion was not about Raymond, but rather the position and role of the officer more generally.
During the Nov. 16 presentation, the committee presented the findings of a recent survey and its subsequent recommendations.
Here are the 3 major takeaways:
1. Overall, the Milton community values the SRO position.
The data: Of the 339 MTSD parents and community members who responded to the survey, over 80 percent were in favor of having the SRO working in all three schools and of it being a full-time position.
Ninety percent of the parents and community members who responded think the SRO’s most important role is to be a crisis commander in the event of an emergency.
Of the 194 high school students who took the survey, 64 percent thought it was important to have an SRO at school. Of the 163 middle school students who completed the survey, 72 percent said they felt safe having an SRO at school.
What was said: During the community comment portion of the presentation, Martin Kattam said he appreciates the way the SRO has helped his children of color build a positive relationship with the police.
He thinks this experience has been formative and will benefit his children as they enter adulthood.
Another Milton parent, who is also a Vermont State trooper, said he appreciates seeing the SRO outside the elementary school during pick up and drop off. That presence is reassuring, he said.
In addition, he thinks the SRO takes tasks away from the Milton Police Department in a way that is beneficial. He imagined the SRO could deal with situations in the school more “softly” than a Milton PD officer could because he or she already has relationships and connections within the school.
2. The committee asked the MTSD school board to engage in a public discussion with the Milton selectboard about the SRO uniform and funding.
Background: The police uniform, including that of an SRO, is governed by the Milton Police Department and union agreements. The uniform is required to include a firearm and a bulletproof vest.
The data: 40 percent of parent and community respondents were in favor of some sort of uniform modification, while 60 percent were not. 46 percent of faculty and staff were in favor of changes.
What was said: Though the carrying of a weapon is non-negotiable, a few students expressed that this aspect of the uniform makes them feel uncomfortable.
“Regardless of how friendly the resource office is, due to the abundance of equipment and the way the equipment is presented does make them seem less approachable and frightening,” one student survey-taker wrote. “Again, I don’t put blame on the resource officer.”
“I feel unsafe because our resource officer has weapons, including a gun,” another student wrote. “I understand the SRO has been through training about keeping our school safe but having a gun seems excessive in a building with a bunch of students.”
Though the survey did not include any questions about the funding of the SRO, several respondents wrote-in comments.
Two individuals thought it was money well spent, while another two thought the money should be spent differently. One individual commented the position should be funded by the Milton Police Department, not the school.
Community member Tana Randall-Wolfe said during the forum that she believes if MTSD is going to continue paying for the position, the district should keep a log of all SRO activity and data. Currently, that information is only held by the police department.
3. The committee, as well as community members, urged the board to think about how race might have played a role in the survey results.
Rex said participants were not asked to identify themselves by name or by race while completing the survey.
Board member Emily Hecker and community member Lisa Rees both encouraged the board to read about how an SRO might impact students of color. School Board Chair Rick Dooley said the board would be happy to look at scholarly, peer-reviewed articles and research on the subject.
Next steps: The SRO contract comes up for renewal in the spring. Between now and then, the board will discuss the matter amongst themselves and meet with the town selectboard for further input. The committee's recommendations will be taken into consideration.