Tim Bland, police officer. The policy committee of the MDIRSS board has recommended that Bland be the school resource officer at MDI High School, Conners Emerson, and Mount Desert Elementary School. ISLANDER FILE PHOTO

School officer OK’d

BAR HARBOR — A police officer should continue to serve as school resource officer (SRO) at Mount Desert Island High School and Conners Emerson School here, according to the policy committee of the MDI Regional School System board.

“It was the unanimous feeling of the committee that we move forward with an SRO in some form or another,” committee member Heidi Lawson told the full board at its Monday evening workshop on the SRO question.

She said the committee agreed with Superintendent Marc Gousse that an SRO policy and a job description specifically for the local SRO should be adopted.

The school system board did not take a vote on the SRO question on Monday.

Bar Harbor Police Officer Tim Bland has been the SRO at Conners Emerson for the past seven years. Last September, Gousse signed a memorandum of understanding with Jim Willis, who is chief of police for both Bar Harbor and Mount Desert, to have Bland also serve roughly half-time as SRO at the high school and a half-day a week at Mount Desert Elementary.

After board members, parents and others learned of the agreement in late December, some questioned whether a police officer should be assigned to a school, especially the high school, on a regular basis.

The high school board has heard at length from people on both sides of the question at two meetings this winter. At the end of the Feb. 15 meeting, the board agreed to ask the policy committee to study the issue and make a recommendation.

Some have expressed concern that the SRO is in the schools as a disciplinarian. High school Principal Matt Haney said that is not the case.

“That continues to be the teachers’ job, my job, Ian’s [Braun, dean of students] job,” he said. “It’s our job to monitor the behavior of our students and to be the ones to enforce the rules when they don’t follow them.”

Conners Emerson Principal Barb Neilly said Bland, as SRO, “is not responsible for any discipline in any way, shape or form at the school.”

“We see him as a resource, as part of the whole idea that it takes a village, a community to raise a child. He doesn’t jam kids up. He works really well with the parents. Often, the parents in our school actually seek him out.”

Ingrid Kachmar, a member of the Southwest Harbor School Committee, said most of the Southwest Harbor students who are now at the high school benefitted from their relationship at Pemetic Elementary with the town’s former police chief, Dave Chapais, even though he was not an SRO.

“He was a presence in the school on almost a daily basis,” she said. “I don’t know why we would not want to offer our kids an opportunity to have positive interactions with police officers.”

Police Chief Willis told the school board that he sees the SRO as part of his departments’ efforts to build stronger community ties.

“If we don’t have a non-enforcement relationship with our community members, we don’t have anything,” he said. “And if we don’t have the ability to solve problems without enforcement, we’ve got no business doing the work.”

There seemed to be broad agreement among school board members that, if the SRO arrangement is continued, the MOU signed by Willis and Gousse should be revised to include a job description that, as Gousse put it, “defines the parameters of what this individual does and doesn’t do.”

Former school board member Gail Marshall said she remains opposed to having an SRO at the high school.

“But I would feel much better as a community member if you had clearly defined roles and responsibilities for this person, just as you do for every other person who works in this building,” she said. “There are model documents for doing that.”

One model that she recommended was written by the American Civil Liberties Union in cooperation with the National Association of School Resource Officers and school administrators organizations.


Dick Broom

Dick Broom

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Dick Broom covers the towns of Mount Desert and Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert Island High School and the school system board and superintendent's office. He enjoys hiking with his golden retriever and finding new places for her to swim. [email protected]
Dick Broom

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