Norwich education board endorses restoring police officers to middle schools
Norwich — The Board of Education on Tuesday unanimously supported a move to bring school resource police officers back to the city’s two middle schools in response to increased disciplinary issues experienced this year.
Norwich eliminated school resource officers several years ago in budget cuts.
Board Chairman Robert Aldi, a retired Norwich police officer, raised the issue Tuesday, and Vice Chairman Mark Kulos made a formal motion to authorize Superintendent Kristen Stringfellow “to meet with the Norwich Police chief no later than Friday, January 21, 2022, to begin the process of reinstating a School Resource Officer (SRO) in each Norwich Public Middle School effective immediately.”
“Given the climate in our schools, given the pandemic and the totality of what’s going on in our world today,” Aldi said. “... In light of what we have perceived, the SROs belong back in our middle schools.”
Board members Carline Charmelus and Gregory Perry voted in favor of the plan, but both expressed concerns about the duties and job descriptions for the officers. Charmelus noted that a recent student discipline report found that minority students were more likely to be suspended than white students.
“I just want to know the impact on minority students who have had behavioral issues,” Charmelus said. “It’s a big concern that the schools not become a prison pipeline. I want that information before we implement this.”
Perry said he was “not in full support unless I know how it will be carried out.” He wanted to see the job description, when and how the officers would interact with students and whether they would be “just reacting” to incidents or actively mentoring students.
Kulos said he sits on the board’s discipline committee, which will have a hearing Wednesday on a student issue, and said the board needs to do something to address the rise in behavioral issues, especially with social media “TikTok challenges” surfacing that have urged students to vandalize schools.
Kulos said he envisions officers serving as role models and mentors on proper behavior. “We’ve had several incidents of discipline problems,” he said, “mostly at middle schools. This would be a huge asset if students feel unsafe.”
Stringfellow said after the meeting that selection of the right officers is critical. Officers must have an interest in working with students, be interviewed by both police and school officials before being selected and then undergo the national school resource officer training program.
Stringfellow presented the board with a detailed rundown of COVID-19 statistics and trends in the school district and the complex protocols for quarantining at home or returning to school.
The weekly COVID-19 caseloads reflect the recent surge throughout the city, region and state. During the first 13 weeks of the school year, there were no more than 16 cases per week. Last week, the school system saw 138 cases, with 41 staff and 97 students infected. For the first two school days this week, the district has 85 cases: 17 staff and 68 students.
Stringfellow said every day in January has been a struggle to open schools due to staff illnesses. Gov. Ned Lamont announced recently that if schools resort to remote learning days, those would not count toward the minimum mandate of 180 days of school. Stringfellow sent a letter to state Education Commissioner Charlene Russell-Tucker asking that the state consider allowing five to 10 remote learning days under staffing emergencies. Stringfellow said she has not received a response.
Stringfellow called staffing this week “uneven, not good.” Every night, staff try to determine where staff absences will occur the next day and shift employees, including central office administrators, to schools to help fill gaps. She said staff have been “really, really great” about not coming to work if they are sick. She said every employee group has experienced COVID absences.
“Every day it’s a question of whether there will be enough staffing,” Stringfellow told the school board. “It’s been a struggle. It’s really having a significant effect on our staff and their ability to sustain that. They’re tired.”
Student attendance also has decreased in the past month. Assistant Superintendent Tamara Gloster reported that chronic absenteeism, defined as missing 10% of school days, increased by 4.12% on Dec. 17 from the previous month. Districtwide, the city schools’ chronic absenteeism stood at 19.89%. That still is lower than the 21.94% absenteeism for the entire 2020-21 school year.