The debate over the role of the School Resource Officer (SRO) in the Kingston City School District was reignited last week in the wake of a mass elementary school shooting in Uvalde, Texas. Five members of the public addressed the KCSD Board of Education, with some demanding trustees take immediate action by hiring armed officers for each of the district’s schools.
“Every School Board member must realize, and I’m sure you do, that safety is the number one priority,” said Jean Jacobs, a former member of the Board of Education. “Look at what just happened in Texas, there should be SROs in every single school. The most innocent and vulnerable were at the beck and call of this…maniac that went into the school and changed the lives of that town forever.”
On Tuesday, May 24, an 18-year old gunman entered Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas with a semi-automatic rifle and killed 19 students and two teachers. The killings happened just 10 days after an 18-year old white supremacist killed ten Black people in Buffalo, also with a semiautomatic rifle. The deadly incidents, along with a spate of other mass shootings across the country, reignited debates about gun rights and school safety. During a public speaking segment of the meeting of the KCSD School Board on Wednesday, June 1, the focus was squarely on school safety and the need for the SRO.
The KCSD has two Kingston Police officers serving as SROs at Kingston High School and one at J. Watson Bailey Middle School; M. Clifford Miller Middle School has an SRO through the Town of Ulster Police Department.
There are seven elementary schools in the district. There are no SROs in any of them.
Last November, the KCSD School Board reviewed 23 changes suggested during a series of community forums, and through letters and e-mails. Among the recommended changes were disallowing the SRO to discipline students; formalizing the complaint process; adding further detail to daily activity logs; disallowing the serving of non-school warrants on district property; and training in implicit bias, crisis intervention, cultural diversity, community engagement, and restorative justice practices. The following month, the Board approved the framework of a new SRO contract implementing many of those changes.
But the speakers at the KCSD School Board meeting last week felt the district should be doing more with the SRO program.
“Every current and future board member must put safety and security of all students…the staff and students have to be a top priority,” said Jolie Dunham, another former trustee and a music teacher at Arlington High School in Dutchess County. “There should be armed school resource officers in every building.”
Scott Denny agreed.
“I look up at the wall and I see the mission statement: It says, mission ‘We inspire. We educate, we graduate all students all the time,’” Denny said. “I don’t see the word ‘safety’ on that at all. That’s the primary responsibility of this Board. That’s it. End of story. There needs to be armed SROs in this school, that’s all there is to it. And anybody in this room that doesn’t vote accordingly to support that shouldn’t be on this Board, plain and simple. This isn’t rocket science guys…This is about protecting children that aren’t yours. You don’t have the right to put them in harm’s way. Get it together.”
The Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District had extensive security measures in place at the time of the shooting, including metal detectors, barriers, and its own six-officer police department responsible for security at the district’s eight schools.