The Superior School Board discussed a proposed school resource officer policy at its Monday, Jan. 4 Committee of the Whole meeting.
If approved, the measure would fill a gap as the school district doesn't have a policy for the school resource officer program, said district administrator Amy Starzecki.
The Superior Police Department currently provides three full-time school resource officers to the district under a 1995 memorandum of understanding (MOU). There is one officer each at Superior High and Middle schools and an officer who covers the five elementary schools within the city limits.
The partnership between agencies dates back to 1972, according to retired Superior police officer Tom Johnson, who served as a resource officer in Superior schools for 27 years.
School leaders felt the district should have a policy in place that works in concert with the memorandum.
“Before making any adjustments to any agreement or MOU, we felt it was important to adopt a board policy that kind of provides guidance for how that MOU should be structured,” Starzecki said.
District stakeholders met a number of times with a representative from the Superior Police Department to research the topic prior to drafting the policy. For the program to be effective, Starzecki said, school resource officers should only be used as a last resort and only if law enforcement intervention is warranted.
“They should not be involved in any disciplinary activities. That should obviously be through school administrators,” Starzecki said.
The board also weighed in on a new memorandum of understanding for the program. It would place only two officers in the district, one each at the high school and middle school. However, if the district is unable to hire a social worker for the elementary schools, an elementary school officer position would be requested.
Ongoing officer training would be required on topics such as working with children with disabilities, de-escalation strategies and restorative practices. Annual feedback would be gathered on how the program is working. The district would contribute 62% of the cost for the officers, roughly $186,000 per school year.
There was some discussion on the dress code of officers at schools, which is also covered under the memorandum. Policies and rules committee chairwoman Laura Gapske said when engaging with youth, it is best practice for law enforcement officers to dress down in a polo and khakis instead of being in uniform.
The officers can carry all the tools for the job, including a gun and radio, while out of uniform, she said, and it would be less traumatizing for students.
“We can’t just gamble on kids’ ability to focus in school,” Gapske said. “Our goal is safety of the kids and being able to learn. And if a kid is being triggered by seeing someone in uniform at school, they’re not going to be able to learn the rest of the day.”
Board member Steve Olson said that Johnson would often dress down for special events or “jeans days.”
“The relationships that he built by not always being in that uniform, I can’t even tell you how much I appreciate what he did and how kids reacted to him in a positive manner,” Olson said.
It was rare to see Johnson, who students knew as “OJ,” in uniform, Gapske said.
“And I think that made him very approachable," she said.
The board will revisit the proposed policy and memorandum at its regular board meeting Monday, Jan. 11.