BAR HARBOR — A new policy defining the role of police officers serving as school resource officers (SROs) is being considered by the Mount Desert Island Regional School System board.
Recommended by the policy committee, the draft policy was formally presented to the full school board Monday night. It will be on the agenda for discussion at the board’s October meeting.
The policy would form the basis for a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the school system and the Bar Harbor and Mount Desert police departments. SROs could be assigned to MDI High School, Conners Emerson in Bar Harbor and Mount Desert Elementary “at the discretion of the police chief in collaboration with the superintendent of schools and principals of each school.”
Last September, school Superintendent Marc Gousse signed an MOU with Bar Harbor and Mount Desert Police Chief Jim Willis to have Bar Harbor Police Officer Tim Bland, who has served as SRO at Conners Emerson for eight years, also serve roughly half-time as SRO at the high school and a half-day a week at Mount Desert Elementary.
But some board members, parents and others questioned whether a police officer should be assigned to a school, especially the high school, on a regular basis. They also objected to the fact that the board had not approved the agreement, so it was withdrawn.
The draft policy details the role of the SRO, which includes helping school administrators and staff “maintain a safe and constructive learning environment,” “assisting individual students and their families in addressing issues related to law enforcement and helping students to have a meaningful school experience,” and enforcing local, state and federal laws.
The MOU 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.”
“Students shall not be arrested at school, except where a student poses a real and immediate threat to students, staff or public safety.”
There are sections of the proposed MOU on “respect for the rights of students,” “transparency and accountability,” “minimum SRO training requirements” and “promoting nonpunitive approach to student behavior.”
Some have expressed concern that the SRO’s role would be as a disciplinarian. But school officials said that was not the case.
“It’s our job to monitor the behavior of students and to be the ones to enforce the rules,” high school Principal Matt Haney said.
Barb Neilly, principal at Conners Emerson, said Bland, in his role as SRO, “is not responsible for any discipline in any way, shape or form.”
“We see him as a resource, as part of the whole idea that it takes a village, a community to raise a child.”
Gail Marshall, an attorney and former prosecutor and former school board member, said she was opposed to having an SRO at the high school.
“But I would feel much better … if you had clearly defined roles and responsibilities for this person,” she said.
Marshall and Willis worked with the school board’s policy committee to draft the policy and accompanying MOU that the board will now consider.
Gousse called their contributions “incredible,” a sentiment echoed by board member Jim Sawyer.
Board member Caroline Pryor, who previously voiced concerns about SROs, didn’t say whether she had changed her position. But she thanked the policy committee for coming up with a policy.
“I haven’t fully digested it, but I know from the first page, it is dramatically improved from what was on the books,” she said.