Highland considering hiring school resource officer

By Mark Reynolds
Posted 2/22/22

The Highland School Board was divided about reading aloud letters from the public pertaining to the district’s possible hiring of a Student Resource Officer [SRO]. About a dozen letters were …

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Highland considering hiring school resource officer


The Highland School Board was divided about reading aloud letters from the public pertaining to the district’s possible hiring of a Student Resource Officer [SRO]. About a dozen letters were submitted to the school board, which they acknowledged were mostly in opposition to the hire.

In June 2021 the school board adopted a resolution stating that letters from the public would be read aloud at their meetings if the writer made that request. Board member Sue Gilmore reminded the board of that action, but in the face of significant opposition, she said the board would have to adopt a new resolution to rescind the reading of letters even when requested.

Board President Tom Miller said not reading letters, “is the way it’s got to be.” Board member Mike Bakatsias said he would like a legal opinion from their attorney, “on the matter and share it with the board.”

School Board Clerk Lisa Cerniglia spoke with the board’s attorney, Allison Smith, who had reviewed the letters and said the board is under no obligation to read them aloud at their meetings.

Sue Gilmore pressed her point further, commenting that, “This stifles the folks who are unable to come to the meeting.” Miller said there are many people who could come to the board meetings, “and why they aren’t, well that’s their personal choice.”

Board member Ed Meisel said even though these letters were not read aloud, they still had an impact upon the board concerning this issue.

“I think they’ve had their influence and I think we’re just trying to keep the cart from going before the horse,” he said. “We haven’t made a decision one way or another. We’ve talked about an open dialogue on including people in understanding what it is we’re trying to put forth or maybe not putting forth. So in that spirit, I feel that we have listened and the communications have been acknowledged and respected. I look forward to having all of these people who wrote letters involved in our discussions and in our discourse.”

Gilmore said declining to read the letters is a, “slippery slope that concerns me.” Board member Camille Adoma backed Gilmore’s point.

“We say to the public that this is what we’re going to do, then we should honor that,” she said.

Board member Alan Barone suggested they read the letters that evening and urged the board at their next meeting to decide whether or not to allow the reading of submitted letters from the public into the record in the future. Meisel supported that position, noting that, “Sue is absolutely right that we have to honor our word as well.”

After Barone asked who was going to read the letters, Bakatsias said, “In my opinion we’ve satisfied the agenda and if there is a second, I motion to end the meeting.” Gilmore said she made her feelings known about the matter and seconded the motion to close the meeting.

“We spent a half hour debating it when we could have already read these letters. This is crazy,” she said.

The board voted to adjourn with Meisel abstaining, explaining that after the board came to a resolution to read the letters they then decided not to act on it, pointing out the dichotomy in taking that position. Board member Heather Welch also abstained, leaving the vote to close the meeting at 5-2.

In an interview with the Southern Ulster Times, Lloyd Police Chief James Janso spoke about his ongoing discussions with the school board.

“In talking with the school district on having the SRO program in some shape, form or fashion without rushing into it...now is a good time to have the discussions and put the program back in place,” he said.

Chief Janso acknowledged a 10 year old incident in the Highland High School when the SRO officer discharged his weapon accidentally and no one was injured.

“It was an unfortunate event that happened but you can’t brush stroke the success that the SRO program is nationwide with one incident,” he said.

Chief Janso said the district can shape the program in a way that best suits the district.

“When we had it years ago, it was one full-timer and broke it between all three schools, depending on the needs of the school and where you want to form your program,” he said. “It’s really up to the school district and the police on how you want to forge ahead and where you want to focus more on.”

Chief Janso is hoping the district reinstates the program.

“I think the big point is to get the program back up and running and then we can gear it as we go in two or three years plans and how it’s going to be funded,” he said.

Janso said primarily the SRO officer is there to protect the students and staff in an emergency, but the officer also becomes a mentor to the kids and helps dispel misconceptions of what the police do.

“Interacting with an officer one on one, day to day you see who we are and what we have to offer.” he said. “In the last two years our officers have been trained more than ever as far as de-escalation of force and mental health training; so it’s a good program and our officers are well equipped for it now and I think the town and the students will benefit by it.”

At the moment Janso has funding for a part-time officer for the rest of the 2020-21 school year. He hopes grants can relieve some or all of the financial burden in the future.

“So if we can do it, it will be on my dollar and not the school’s dollar. I have some officers who are viable candidates for the position, so it’s a great opportunity to go forward with this.” he said. “You can’t sit back and wait for something to happen, you have to plan for the future and act now.”