Friday, 23 September 2022 11:12

When School Safety Measures are Left to Insurance Reviews

By Jennifer Taylor | Editorials

In recent months I have been attending Saratoga Springs’ Board of Education meetings. At first I thought of it as a learning opportunity, an attempt to better understand the Board and its various relationships with the community, and how those partnerships played out in the schools. It was the topic of school safety that drew me in - one that most parents put great importance on, especially considering the current climate. I thought common sense and compromise could prevail on the matter of bringing Student Resource Officers (SROs) to the elementary schools. I could not be sadder to report that it has only proven to be incredibly divisive.

A bit of the backstory - SSCSD has two full time SROs who are assigned at the high and middle schools. These officers completed special training/certification to work in the school environment, and they are there to serve as mentors, role models and to keep the student and staff population safe. They are NOT enforcers, despite what the opposition continues to insinuate. No one is “less safe” because they are present. In fact, at the August 16th Saratoga Springs City Council meeting there was applause and accolades given to the SROs - but then immediate push back when asked to consider making SROs available to the elementary schools.

This past June, after another horrific school tragedy, the elementary schools were put on the radar as needing additional security. The Saratoga Springs Police Department reached out to school administration and offered to help make sure all students were safe. While this was acceptable in June, the help at the elementary level was on a timer - and it expired once classes dismissed for summer break. There are those that have made it their mission to assure that this help does not return.

What has been truly staggering is the gaslighting and manipulation taking place. Questions posed by parents to the Board and administration go unanswered. But that’s not hard to believe considering the Board refuses to answer, or even consider, questions asked by its own members. I encourage you to watch some of the past meetings, where semantics reign supreme and bullying and condescension trample any attempt to discuss the topic of safety as it relates to SROs. 

Shouldn’t elementary schools should be given the same safety considerations, and teachers of ALL grades afforded the same resources if they have questions or concerns? Ask the SROs - they will tell you that they are there to help, and they want to help.

Besides the considerable time spent debating the nuances of how motions must be phrased - the only measure forward has been to delay consideration/discussion of additional SROs until after an insurance audit is completed this October. New York Schools Insurance Reciprocal (NYSIR) has become the convenient fallback for Board leadership, and they seem more than content to string parents along, rather than be proactive in their approach to our children’s safety.

What cannot, and should not, be ignored is the further contradiction and conflict at work where NYSIR is concerned. As the district’s insurer, NYSIR touts themselves for financial fitness and the ability to minimize a school’s liability in the wake of an event. How can this mindset, and mission, be the driving force behind the safety making decisions of our Board and administration? This is not a homeowners or umbrella policy being crafted - we are talking about the lives of our children and school staff.

Beyond this conflict, the inconsistency is obvious. The Board continues to rely on NYSIR’s audit to make an “informed decision” and yet it already employs two SROs, and the City has two additional officers who are trained/certified and ready. And still they continue to allow safety measures to be inequitable across Saratoga’s schools. The City’s Commissioner of Safety, James Montagnino, has said what all parents would say - that money should not stand in the way of protecting our most vulnerable. He and the Saratoga Springs Police have confirmed on multiple occasions that they want to work with administration to put SROs at the elementary schools.

And while it remains troubling the Board continually uses NYSIR to avoid discussion, the irony is NYSIR promotes the importance of a school’s relationship with law enforcement in its “Safer Schools” presentation - a collection of articles available on the NYSIR website. In the Building Security Check-Up article it states “law enforcement should have access to buildings and should be familiar with facilities.” It is acknowledged that officer presence is important, as is having a SRO who is visible and engaged with students. There is more substantive advice in Safer Schools - and I would think that those who would like to rely on NYSIR, would actually read their best practices.

What is the Board hoping NYSIR will tell them in their audit? Installing better lighting in a particular hallway, or identifying and trimming a tree limb that is obstructing a stop sign is important - but even more critical is the equal application of the best practices and safety personnel across the schools. SROs are part of a security team - experts in emergency situations. They are hardly comparable to an overgrown tree limb. The men and women that have become vilified by the opposition are still the first to be called when help is needed. The stigma that they have been given by some is reprehensible.

Safety measures and resources are, and will continue to be, prejudicial if nothing is done. The Board will continue to drag this issue along as it waits for NYSIR’s report. However, for the parents who are following this issue, this stance by the Board hardly promotes confidence or morale. If anything, the district’s safety plan for its elementary schools is, at best, reactionary in practice…steeped in narrow-mindedness and contradictions.

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