Issue 50: School Police

By: George Chapelle

Officials at Oceanside High School in Rockland prevented me from interviewing students on Tuesday morning to ask their opinion about having police officers on campus.

Police-on-campus has become an issue in schools in America since the shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., Feb. 14, in which 17 were killed.

I was at Oceanside around 7:30 a.m., just as students were milling around the office during announcements. I tried talking to two students, but couldn’t because they were busy and on their way to class.

A teacher in the hallway on Tuesday offered to help me and asked what I wanted. I identified myself as a reporter from The Buzz and said that I would like to talk with students. At that point, high school principal Jennifer Curtis intervened and said there were seniors with privileges who might be free to talk with me. She took my name and number and offered to call when she had set something up.

She never called. I returned to school at 2 as classes were letting out and was told that Curtis was at a meeting. Her secretary asked for my name and number, which I gave again. I was told that Curtis would call me the next day, but she never did.

In my 81 years of living, I have spent 30 years working as a newspaperman and about 25 years as a high school English teacher. In my later life, I became a poet, sometimes overlapping in my other two careers. Today, I still teach creative writing to adult veterans at Togus and in Waldoboro. My treatment at the school that day was one of the most egregious run-arounds of my career.

RSU 13 Superintendent John McDonald told me in an interview Wednesday his administration has been looking at the “cops-in-the-classroom” idea for a couple of years, and that he had been familiar with the procedure since 2009 at his former school district in Belfast. The policy exists there and seems to have been successful, partly based on the congenial personality of the Belfast SRO, as the police officers are known by the acronym for “school resource officer.”

McDonald said he and the school board were not just looking into the issue because of the shooting in Parkland, although that massacre contributed to furthering the idea at RSU 13, he said.

I told McDonald I had gone to Oceanside High School on the day before to interview students about how they felt having police officers in school, and I was denied access to the kids. I had been told that juvenile students needed parental permission to speak to the press. McDonald reiterated that policy.

There is a conflict, however, between a Constitutional right of free speech and school policy.

No decision has been made by the administration to have SROs patrolling the halls. The school board has scheduled a workshop at the superintendent’s office at the former McLain School on Lincoln Street to discuss the issue at 6:30, March 15.

Because of his experience in Belfast, McDonald believes hiring an SRO can work, given the temperament of the officer. He said a good SRO could help kids feel safe by improving security and opening up communications between them and the school officials.

A few years ago, Maine’s schools were involved in the DARE program as a watchdog for drug abuse. DARE officers patrolled schools and searched for drugs.

The program was funded so that local administrations did not have to pay for the officers. McDonald said the DARE funding has petered out, and so has the program.

There is new funding available under community policing grants that are competitive between towns and cities, McDonald said. Whether RSU 13 would qualify remains to be seen.

But the administration is violating a Constitutional right by not giving teen-agers a voice in the idea of cops-on-campus. In schools in large cities, such as Philadelphia, the issue has become racial because Black students automatically are targeted as suspects, based on profiling. It’s also seen as a pipeline-from-school-to prison for some students, according to published reports.

How do our students in RSU 13 feel about cops-on-campus, and about the availability of guns In society? They deserve to have a voice and not be “another brick in the wall,” as the song goes.

We need to hear from them.

 

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