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Board’s ‘no’ to armed school officer draws mixed reaction

November 30, 2018
By GRIFFIN KELLY - Staff Writer ( , Lake Placid News

LAKE PLACID - Many parents, community members and former students reacted to the Lake Placid Central School District Board of Education declining the next Essex County sheriff's plan to have armed deputies in schools starting next year.

According to a slew of Facebook comments attached to a previous Enterprise article, many disagreed with the school district, saying a designated police officer would make a school safer, while others backed the board, commending it for not taking on the program without more information.

"I'm glad the school board members are ask(ing) such great questions before they move ahead with things!" Elizabeth Guglielmi wrote. "Thank you for your service to our families!"

Article Photos

News photo — Griffin Kelly
David Reynolds speaks on the Essex County Courthouse steps in January, announcing he is running for sheriff. As it turned out, he was the only candidate.

On the other hand, Thomas Politi wrote, "It will be on the board if there is a problem and kind of weird the only school in the district to opt out."

Though not against the idea of a school resource officer (SRO) for the future, school Superintendent Roger Catania and board members said they'd prefer to focus efforts more on creating a positive school environment and having access to school counselors and a psychologist rather than relying on an armed presence. Essex County Sheriff-elect David Reynolds, who has presented his ideas to multiple school boards in the past few months, said a combination of the two would probably be the best option for the districts.

"I don't see why a positive and trained role model would be a negative for the school," he said in a phone interview Monday.

The LPCSD board members said they still had questions, like, "Will the officer always be armed and in uniform?" "What are the hours?" and "Is the role more than just an armed presence?"

Reynolds said, since the conception of the SRO program, he didn't want the officers to just be an armed presence. They would also have emergency medical and crisis intervention mental health training. He was an SRO from 2000 to 2005. During that time, he said he would sit in on classes, read to kindergartners and play basketball with students at gym.

"I almost acted like a guest teacher on many occasions, and that's how I envision the program for Essex County," he said. "It wouldn't solely be for the safety aspect."

Reynolds said the SROs in Essex County would work about 20 hours a week and be present at a variety of situations: the classroom, the hallway, the lunchroom, sporting events and the school bus. He also said the SROs would work with the school district to best utilize their presence. Yes, they would always be uniform and carrying their guns, but that's the standard outfit and gear for an officer, Reynolds said.

Some parents and students are concerned that a student might to try to take the SRO's gun. Reynolds said that's kind of a difficult thing to do because modern police holsters are designed with triple retention locking mechanisms. You can't simply slip a gun out of the holster; there are safeguards in place that require specific movements to withdraw the weapon.

Reynolds said he could see those moments as teaching opportunities, similar to Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) officers.

"We don't do show and tell with our guns," he said, "but we're capable of educating a child about a firearm."

As of now, Lake Placid is the only district to opt out of the SRO program; however, many other districts are still weighing out their options. The original idea was to have the county cover all the cost of the program, but the Essex County Board of Supervisors is requesting that any school district participating in the program provide $20,000 to offset some of the cost. The SRO program is still in the tentative 2019 budget for Essex County, and the cost is nearly $500,000, but that could change if more schools opt out.

"I wanted the program to be equitable and sustainable and have the county take care of the entire cost so that all school districts could receive the same opportunities and services," Reynolds said. "The $20,000 could change what districts are willing to approve it now."

Catania said the cost of the program played a part in the board's final decision, but that it was more concerned with the unanswered questions and details of the SRO.

In the early 2000s, Essex County received a federal grant to pay for SROs in its public school districts. The grant paid for the program for the first three years, and then in the fourth year, the county picked up the cost. By the fifth year, the sheriff's department asked if the schools wanted to keep the program going, but they couldn't afford it. Reynolds was one of the SROs in the program at the time. He worked in multiple school districts such as Keene, Westport and Willsboro.

"It was a successful program, and that's why I'm so passionate about implementing it again," he said, "but when it came to the money, the schools just couldn't do it."

Keene Central School Superintendent Daniel Mayberry said the cost of the SRO can be a deciding element on whether a school district adopts the program.

"It's one of the factors that concerns us about the long-term viability of the program," he said in a phone interview Monday. "When you have to meet a 2 percent tax cap every year, we don't know what's gonna happen in the future. When financing gets tight, that's one of the first things to go. When you're trying to meet mandates and a tax cap, it could present a challenge."

Mayberry said Keene has yet to adopt the SRO program as well, saying the district's board still has many of the same questions Lake Placid had.

Reynolds never met with the Keene board formally to discuss SROs. Instead, he and Mayberry met in August to talk about it.

At Schroon Lake Central School, Superintendent Stephen Gratto said officials there would like to have SROs, but the cost is prompting the board of education to further investigate its options, like hiring a retired officer at a lower price.

"We're in support of the plan, but not necessarily having to pay for it," he said in a phone interview Monday. "Whichever is the most inexpensive option is the one we would take."

Moriah Central School District Superintendent William Larrow said his district supports the SRO program and would love to have officers in the school, but budgeting for that can be tricky. He, too, said that the program in the early 2000s was successful but couldn't continue because of tight school budgets.

"Our goal is to definitely go forward with the program," he said. "It provides a sense of security for students, staff and the community. However, we are making sure we can cover it in our upcoming budget and seeing if we can handle it monetarily."



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