BAR HARBOR — A year-old agreement that allows a police officer to serve as school resource officer (SRO) at Conners Emerson School in Bar Harbor, Mount Desert Island High School and Mount Desert Elementary School has been renewed by the respective school committees.
The agreement, detailed in a memorandum of understanding (MOU), is with the Bar Harbor and Mount Desert police departments.
It states that the mission of the SRO program is “to promote school safety and the educational climate at the school, not to enforce school discipline or punish students.”
The MOU stipulates that the SRO will be assigned to the schools from mid-October until mid-to-late May at the discretion of the chief of the police departments “in collaboration with the superintendent of schools and principals of each school.”
Bar Harbor Police Officer Tim Bland has served as SRO at Conners Emerson since 2010.
In September 2016, Superintendent of Schools Marc Gousse and Jim Willis, chief of the Bar Harbor and Mount Desert police departments, signed an MOU that called for Bland to spend roughly two-and-a-half days a week at Conners Emerson, two to two-and-a-half days at the high school and a half-day a week at Mount Desert Elementary.
However, most members of the school system board and parents were unaware of the MOU until late December, when some of them raised questions about whether it was appropriate for the schools to have SROs. Some expressed strong opposition to having police officers in the schools, particularly the high school, in any capacity on a regular basis.
After months of study and debate, the school board in October 2017 approved a revised MOU, along with a policy detailing the responsibilities of the SRO. That policy, based on one endorsed by the American Civil Liberties Union, states that the primary roles of the SRO include:
- “Providing support and assistance to the school administration and staff to maintain a safe and constructive learning environment;
- “Serving as a resource to administrators and staff concerning law enforcement and child welfare issues” and
- “Assisting individual students and their families in addressing issues related to law enforcement and helping students to have a meaningful school experience.”
Bland has said he sees his job as SRO as providing an extra degree of school security, helping students stay out of trouble through counseling and showing them that authority figures also can be their friends and confidants.
Matt Haney, principal of MDI High School, stressed at the Oct. 15 high school board meeting that Bland’s role is not a disciplinary one. Haney said that when he and Bland both saw two students get into a fight earlier this year, “Tim was standing right next to me, and he didn’t even engage. I handled it.”
Gousse told the Mount Desert School Committee last week, “Our relationship with law enforcement, not just with the Mount Desert and Bar Harbor police departments but across public safety, is working well.”
Either Gousse, on behalf of the three schools, or Chief Willis may terminate the SRO agreement with 30 days written notice.
Liz Graves contributed reporting to this story.