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Stonington — The new high school principal, Mark Friese, informed families Tuesday that he and police will be undertaking two initiatives to limit “distractions” for students and increase safety.
First, they will be implementing a program involving police and the court system to further inform students about the harmful impacts of social media, such as cyberbullying and how a single post can dramatically impact their lives.
Second, K-9 Officer Earl Palmer and the department’s new police dog, Odin, will make occasional, unannounced sweeps of hallways, lockers and parking lots as a deterrent to students’ use of illegal drugs. In addition, police and the school will further educate students about the illegal drugs that are prevalent in the region and their effect on students.
Friese said he is familiar with both issues, as he often had to deal with them as the school’s assistant principal the past three years.
Families of students were scheduled to receive a letter authored by Friese and Police Chief J. Darren Stewart outlining the initiatives on Tuesday.
“The Stonington Police Department and Stonington High School staff are committed to providing a school that is safe and free from distractions. These programs provide a safe environment that will allow our students to concentrate on their learning and be successful,” states the letter.
Stewart commended Friese for spending the summer talking to police about the issues facing students and then working with police to come up with a unified plan to address them.
In the joint letter, Friese and Stewart said they have been in discussions throughout the summer about strengthening their effort to “ensure the students in Stonington have a safe learning environment. There are many distractions that our students deal with on a daily basis. It is our goal to educate our students and limit these distractions.”
They said that since the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, police have had an increased presence in the school, and that will continue.
They said school and police officials want to expand an aspect of their partnership by educating students about current topics that impact their lives, such as social media and cyberbullying.
They wrote that police and the schools often find themselves “dealing with the aftermath of texting, tweeting, and use of other social media outlets in harmful ways that disturbs the school day. Students need to be more aware of the potential legal ramifications of social media. It is our intention to work together to provide more resources to our students. The police officers can share real world situations to emphasize the need to use these social media outlets appropriately.”
In an interview on Monday, Friese added that “social networking is out of control” and that he and police want to strengthen the message about how students are “a single click away from something that police will get involved in.”
He added that illegal drug use, mostly marijuana, is on the rise, and it is one distraction that he does not want in the school.
“We want to send the message to the kids that we really care about them and what they are doing,” he said.
Stewart and Friese wrote in the letter “that both education and a strong deterrent are necessary to ensure that distraction from drugs never impact the learning at Stonington High School.”
The school intends to use a Board of Education policy that allows police dogs into the building to search for illegal drugs.
They said no individual student will be subject to a search by the dogs. If police and the school receive information about illegal substances, the school staff will conduct an investigation in accordance with school board policy.
Stewart said that while the police department’s recently retired dog Fritz and his handler Greg Howard assisted in sweeps of other schools in the region and occasionally visited the high school, they did not conduct any organized, periodic walk-throughs of the high school. He added that such sweeps are not uncommon in other communities.