Reed hears from educators, parents about school resource officer funding
BROCTON – With the amount of violence in schools lately, school safety has become a top issue.
Rep. Tom Reed addressed the issue Friday afternoon during a community forum in Brocton made up of school staff, local officials and parents.
“The idea is to make sure students and teachers feel safe and sound when going to school,” he said. “We address mental health issues and school resource officers to make sure kids feel safe.”
Reed said whenever you hear of school violence it brings up the issue of school safety.
“The decision to support police coming to schools needs to be made at a local level,” he said. “I don’t believe in the one size fits all scenario; each district needs their own resource officer.”
Reed said when he was mayor of Corning he witnessed a resource officer stop a horrific event from occurring at his children’s school.
“This left a whole different taste in folks mouth when it comes to police officers,” he said. “They are the good guys.”
Brocton Superintendent John Hertlein said in his 43 years in education the single most important thing was having a resource officer on hand.
“We truly believe in the program,” he said. “We don’t have the funding or we would’ve kept the program.”
There was a lot of reference to Sandy Hook at the discussion and everyone agreed that if the mother had proper training and knew how to handle her mentally ill son that tragedy could’ve been stopped.
Reed said a new way to look at school safety is to hire unemployed veterans to protect the schools.
“They have military training which would be helpful,” he said. “It takes care of two problems – out of work veterans and school safety.”
Former Brocton School Resource Officer Wayne Ashley said it takes a special kind of person to come to a school and protect the students.
“The best part of my 30 years as an officer was the nine years I spent at Brocton being their resource officer,” he said. “It was the only time I felt I accomplished anything.”
Ashley said he would go back to being a resource officer in a heartbeat if he could.
“I had 970 Brocton kids and they were all mine,” he said. “These kids still talk to me even when they go off to college or get a job.”
Ashley stressed that not everyone can do what he did; it takes a special personality.
“For someone to come off the street and deal with K-12 kids is not easy,” he said. “I absolutely loved it.”
Ashley said the relationship a police officer builds with the kids is everything.
Chautauqua Lake Superintendent Ben Spitzer said in order for this to work, every district has to have its own resource officer.
“We need to have it in all school districts,” he said. “I would hate to see it in one and not the other.”
Susan Bartle, the director of the school library for Erie 2 BOCES, said there were resource officers in BOCES who handled the most challenging children.
“Most of the kids sent to us were the most dangerous ones,” she said. “When it came down to having to cut officers due to lack of funds, that was a bad idea.”
Reed asked if this was just a funding issue or if other problems stood in the way of school safety.
Chautauqua County Sheriff Joseph Gerace said some parents didn’t feel comfortable about police officers being at the school.
Brocton School Board Member Thomas DeJoe said schools were concerned with armed officers.
“Schools dropped out of the resource officer program out of fear of guns being around the school,” he said.
Michelle Swanson, Brocton Safety committee member and Spanish teacher, said she wants students to feel safe when going to school.
“Having someone here all the time would help,”she said. “As a teacher we build relationships with kids and we don’t know what to do with the tougher kids.”
Swanson said all the programs they had to help students feel safe fell through due to lack of funds.
Dr. Frederick Verdonik, the director of psychology at WCA Hospital, said he works with school safety situations.
“I lose sleep over it,” he said. “When a kid becomes a threat risk and has the whole weekend to plan it keeps me awake.”
Verdonik said in the ’90s there was no help with bullies and nowadays the Internet alerts people to threats.
“If a kid is a ticking time bomb and everyone knows it and the kid is saying online he is going to kill someone and he brings a gun to school, that is the time I hold my breath,” he said. “The system is saying this kid needs help but the kid is a no-show and we will pay for it.”
Brocton Mayor David Hazelton said as an active fireman he is concerned about the lack of help.
“What happens in those 30 critical minutes when we need to get to the school due to a threat?” he asked. “I will be lucky if I can get four people to help direct traffic so we can get to the school during a threat.”
Reed said when funding goes to states the rural areas get left out.
“The harsh reality is that America is in a lot of debt now and there is not a lot of money we can use for these programs,” he said. “Everyone wants to be fully funded and if I had a magic box I would help the parent whose kid is on life support and fully fund school safety.”
Swanson said their end product is people.
“You can’t put a price on people,” she said. “We do so much more than teach our kids; we produce the people who are going to be in the society and we need to turn them out as good productive people.”
Swanson said maybe they could stop a child from causing harm if they had more money to support safety programs.
Reed said he wanted to address two key things.
“The data communication among each other needs work; everyone is not speaking the same government language,” he said. “The other is we need one program that works and is sustainable.”
Reed said this problem is not going to be solved in one day.
When the OBSERVER asked if Reed would consider putting metal detectors in the schools as well as resource officers he answered, “We are looking at all of that – metal detectors and surveillance cameras – to make schools safer. … We need to develop human relationships between officers and kids.”
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