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New London schools stalled on negotiations for police in schools

New London — Advocates for the removal of uniformed police officers from New London Public Schools have gotten their wish.

The district has gone without a school resource officer since the beginning of the year as the district attempts to negotiate terms of a new memorandum of understanding with the police department.

Hopes of the two sides coming to any kind of agreement have dimmed, however, because of what school board member Elaine Maynard-Adams said is the refusal of police Chief Peter Reichard to compromise on a number of requests by the school board related to the SRO position.

The school board in August voted 4-3 not to eliminate the position of SRO but to remove the one officer from the high school and negotiate a new MOU that could include things like a mission statement, job description and evaluation process with involvement from the district. An MOU hadn’t existed for the past several years.

The board had heard from many people in the community, including former students, who argued the officer’s presence was a source of stress, anxiety and trauma. Data from studies presented to the board showed schools with SROs have increased rates of arrests and that Black and Latino students were the ones most likely to be arrested. Some urged the school to use the funds to pay for student resources instead of police.

At the same Aug. 27 school board meeting, the board voted 4-3 to develop a Plan B to the SRO program: development of a job description for a director of security position to take over responsibilities of the SRO. The schools do still maintain civilian security officers.

Reichard said that a day before school started, Superintendent Cynthia Ritchie had asked if the department would assign an SRO to Central Office and dispatch that officer to the high school as needed.

“This defeats the concept of an SRO in a school to bond with students/staff, high visibility, and preventing incidents from occurring,” Reichard said in an email on Tuesday. “The request did not take place.”

Reichard said it was agreed at that Sept. 9 meeting that a new MOU needed to be drafted to accurately list the duties and functions of the SRO.

Maynard-Adams said she expected the SRO to be stationed at Central Office until details could be worked out but was surprised to learn about two weeks ago that the police chief had never assigned an SRO. The discovery was made during a “student in crisis” event, when no SRO was available to assist. The student was helped instead by school officials, the Department of Children and Families, the city’s Human Services director and eventually New London police, she said.

“We were never informed no SRO had been assigned until we pressed,” Maynard-Adams said.

Attempts to negotiate the MOU have since stalled, Maynard-Adams said, and Reichard has rejected several requests, such as having a student representative on a committee interviewing an SRO candidate and for the SRO to be a plain clothed officer.

“I’m not seeing a whole lot of hope we will be able to come to an agreement that addresses the concerns of the students and the board,” Maynard-Adams said.

Reichard said the assignment of police officers into the schools is at his discretion, since the officer has to be properly vetted by the police administration and assigned based on their qualifications and abilities. The school board, he said, “does not have access to the internal information that is used to determine if an officer is qualified or a good fit for the SRO position.”

Maynard-Adams said Mayor Michael Passero has become involved in ongoing discussions. Reichard said a working draft copy of an MOU was sent out by the superintendent’s office on Nov. 2 and forwarded to City Hall for review. He said he had yet to hear back on its status.

Maynard-Adams said she thought it would be a more pressing issue if the school wasn’t operating in a hybrid model with less than half of the student population in school at any given time.

In the meantime, she said there is a team of school administrators, including crisis intervention specialists, meeting with police administration on a regular basis to hash out any issues in the community, such as gang recruitment, that may involve students.

“The school administration has been assured that in the case of a crisis, they can get someone right away,” she said.

g.smith@theday.com

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