BAR HARBOR — A three-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 for another year by the respective school committees.
The agreement between the three schools and the Bar Harbor and Mount Desert police departments is detailed in a six-page memorandum of understanding (MOU).
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.”
Bar Harbor Police Officer Tim Bland has served as SRO at Conners Emerson since 2010 and at the two other schools for the past few years. He spends most of his time at Conners Emerson and the high school.
He has said he sees his job as providing an extra degree of school security, helping students stay out of trouble through counseling and showing them that authority figures can also be their friends and confidants.
“I feel really comfortable with this agreement, with the way it’s written and also with the way it’s followed,” Principal Matt Haney told the high school board on Monday. “(The SRO) continues to be a great resource for our school.”
Some school committee and community members have said they remain uncomfortable with the idea of having a police officer in school on a regular or semi-regular basis.
Keri Hayes, a new high school board member, asked at Monday’s board meeting if the MOU could be amended to state that the SRO would not carry a weapon at school.
Principal Matt Haney said he thought that would be “a deal breaker,” and Superintendent Marc Gousse said, “You cannot ask a law enforcement individual to remove their [weapon].”
Hayes said that if the idea of not allowing the SRO to be armed is a deal breaker, “Then can we use this money to hire another counselor or something?”
But board member Kristie Losquadro pointed out, “We don’t fund this position; this is not our money. It is funded by the police department.”
“I don’t care who pays them,” Hayes responded. “I don’t want someone with a gun in the school.”
But she ultimately voted in favor of the MOU, which was approved unanimously.
Board chair Ingrid Kachmar reminded board members that they had received numerous letters and comments about the SRO position this past summer, “when some of the students were reaching out about anti-racism.” She asked Haney to talk about conversations he had had with students about the issue.
“I don’t want there to be any presumption that we are doing business as usual or without taking into consideration those comments and letters we received this summer,” she said.
Haney said that, when the letters concerning racism at the school began coming in, he and other school officials met frequently with “some of the leading voices, the main authors behind those letters.”
He said one of the concerns they expressed was about the SRO position.
“It became clear to me that we had not done a good job of educating them about why we had a school resource officer,” Haney said. “They thought we had a security guard who was here to help us with discipline, and that is not the role of our school resource officer.
“I was able to talk through that with that group of students. And they said, ‘I think it makes sense to have someone like that here.’”
Board member Marie Yarborough said that when the MUO with the police departments was drafted three years ago, everyone involved wanted to make sure it reflected “our values as a community and what we really wanted to see in someone who was going to be in our schools doing that kind of work.”
Gousse added, “I see that individual as being a deterrent and an effective resource in maintaining the safety and security of our students.”