At a special meeting on Tuesday, April 9, the board unanimously approved creating an SRO position.
Schools Superintendent Colleen Palmer said an SRO will help create a safer school. “The position has my full support. It will provide another layer of safety and security, and create positive relationships,” she said.
An SRO is a police officer who is assigned to a school or multiple schools. The officer acts as an enhanced security measure to maintain a safe school climate and also becomes involved in the students’ lives as a positive role model. Many SROs teach classes as well. The SRO does not handle Mile of Safety patrol duties.
The exact duties and responsibilities for Weston’s SRO need to be determined by the school board in conjunction with the Police Department, and funding for the position needs to be secured.
The position was not included in the 2013-14 budget proposal, and if it were to be implemented before the next fiscal year, a supplemental appropriation for the position would need to be approved by the Board of Finance.
“There are several steps we need to go through before the SRO is on board,” said School Board Chairman Phil Schaefer. Because the SRO is a police officer, a memorandum of understanding will need to be negotiated with the town, so specific duties, responsibilities and funding obligations are clear, he said.
In addition, because it is a new position, a job description needs to be created, then reviewed and approved by the police officers’ collective bargaining unit. “I’m not sure when the SRO will physically be on campus. I’m thinking it may happen in the second half of the 2013-14 year, but nothing is set in stone. It’s a process, but the process has begun,” Mr. Schaefer said.
Weston Police Chief John Troxell has been advocating for the creation of an SRO position for some time. He even asked for the position on a contingency basis in the upcoming 2013-14 budget (that request was not approved by the finance board).
But it took the school board several months to reach its decision to hire an SRO.
Dana Levin, chairman of the school board’s policy subcommittee, said the board had considered an SRO in past years when grant money was available, but the board didn’t believe it was right for Weston at the time.
This past fall, the school board started looking into SROs again, with the full support and encouragement of the Police Department.
After the Newtown school tragedy on Dec. 14, the board focused on school security. The district hired additional security guards and beefed up coverage of School Road. The board also quickened its pace on researching SROs.
“Compared to over a decade ago, times have changed. It’s a different world,” said Ms. Levin. She said an SRO would give the schools another “arrow in their quiver” of services they can provide at the schools for the kids.
In the past few months, members of the policy committee conducted site visits to neighboring districts with SROs to see how they worked.
“We visited New Canaan, Ridgefield, Wilton, and Darien, and met SROs, administrators, students, and staff in order to learn more about how SROs function in their schools,” Ms. Levin said.
In each district, the SRO operated differently. They even dressed differently. Some wore full uniforms, others wore plainclothes, one dressed as a combination of both — plainclothes with a badge. “Each district is different; it’s not a cookie-cutter thing,” Ms. Levin said.
She believes the SROs as a great way to establish positive relations between students and the police. “The students we spoke to on the site visits said they felt safer knowing a police officer was there,” she said.
Ms. Levin said the SRO in Weston would primarily be stationed at the high school, and it was important the officer be someone who related well with students.