Schools mull hiring resource officer

In the past few months, school safety has dominated national news following the February high school shooting in Parkland, Fla., where a gunman shot and killed 14 students and three staff members.

Since then, more school shootings have happened including ones in Maryland, Texas and Indiana.

The question of school safety has dominated the discussions of policy makers at every level, including the Champlain Valley School District school board.

A popular idea in those discussions is the possibility of adding a school resource officer to the district. School district officials and Champlain Valley Union High School administrators made the suggestion to the school board.

“Even before we started the conversation as a result of all of these things that were happening in the world, Adam had been talking to Jeanne and I about a school resource officer for CVU because he had a really good experience at Montpelier High School,” Superintendent Elaine Pinckney said at the April 17 school board meeting. Pinckney was referring to CVU Principal Adam Bunting and Jeanne Jensen, the district’s chief operations officer.

At the May school board meeting Bunting asked Montpelier school resource officer Corporal Matthew Knisley to talk to the board about his job and to give members an idea of what a resource officer could do in CVSD.

Knisley explained that his job as a resource officer isn’t to arrest students behaving badly, but to build relationships with students, which requires balancing police work and time spent at the school.

“A lot of times in school we have kids that are having a tough time, and the teacher would have no idea that dad just got arrested, or that we were there for a domestic call last night,” Knisley said. “So there’s this one-way check valve of information. Obviously we can’t share all of the information we know about a family to a school, just like we are not going to share everything we see in a school building and put it in a log at the police department.”

Montpelier has had a resource officer in its district since the 1990s. The officer has a presence at the high school, middle and elementary schools.

Knisley went on to describe how his district is only just beginning to grapple with the question of how to provide services in a merged district.

For example, since merging with Roxbury, there has been a question regarding funding for the officer because the school district and city of Montpelier fund the position.

Location also plays a role. Roxbury Village School, which serves students kindergarten through sixth grade, is 30 minutes away from Montpelier, where Knisley serves on the police force.

Similar questions would apply in the case of the Champlain Valley School District especially if the school board wants the resource officer to spend time in the community schools.

Three of the five towns in the CVSD – Shelburne, Hinesburg and Williston – have police departments. The school is located in Hinesburg. If the resource officer is to spend time in the community schools, officials would need to decide which police department would supply the officer.

Next, selecting the actual officer would be another step. The school superintendent and the police chief would hire the officer jointly, officials explained. They also would need to work out the funding details regarding how the officer would be paid. The discussions so far suggest the police department would assign the officer.

The Hinesburg Selectboard has been involved in the discussions about creating a resource officer position. Assistant Town Administrator Joy Dubin Grossman assembled background information, including examples of various funding structures for resource officers in districts across the state.
Hinesburg Selectboard members were not sold on the idea yet but two members attended the May 15 school board meeting, where the conversations continued.

The school board is seeking comment from other school administrators to assess the needs across the district. It is not certain when a resource officer could be hired, but unlike other school personnel such as teachers, a resource officer could be hired year-round.

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