Neighbors for a Safer Saint Albans

A Letter to the Superintendent of MRUSD & Response

Dr. Kevin Dirth, Superintendent
Maple Run Unified School District
28 Catherine Street
St. Albans, VT 05478

Re: Questions about Maple Run School Resource Officer Program

Dear Dr. Dirth,

We are writing to address the use of School Resource Officers (SROs) in the Maple Run Unified School District. It is our understanding that this topic will be addressed at the next school board meeting on July 15th. We have a number of questions about this program that we are hoping you can answer in advance of that meeting.  In light of recent calls to defund or reform police, as well as a lack of evidence to support the effectiveness of SROs, we are wondering what the administration sees as the role of SROs in our schools? More specifically:

  • How is the presence of an SRO beneficial to students?
  • What local level data are available to support that at Maple Run? 
  • What data are available to show demographics of students who have interacted with SROs?

According to budget records, a total of $264,456 is currently spent on SROs across the district. 

  • How are these contracts negotiated and where are we in the current contract cycle?
  • What are the specific sources of funding?
  • What are the reporting requirements of the above funding sources and how are the reports used?
  • How can we access these reports?
  • Which of the above funding sources could have the flexibility to be allocated to other programs or line items?  
  • Who provides supervision to SROs and how often are performance evaluations conducted? 
  • Who has access to performance evaluations?
  • Does the district collect data on the efficacy of the officers?

One of our concerns is that – in contrast to making schools safer – research indicates that SROs make some students feel less safe and therefore have a negative impact on student achievement. A 2013 finding by the Congressional Research Service states that this impact falls disproportionately on low-income and students of color. This suggests that the safety and comfort of white students is privileged at the expense of others. This is contrary to the mission of the district which seeks to create a community where “all can learn, achieve, and succeed”.  

On June 5th, the district released a Solidarity Statement in response to the protests evoked by the murder of George Floyd and years of unanswered cries for change. The statement recommitted to “anti-bias and anti-racism”.  Our hope is that these funds will be redistributed to fund evidence-based alternatives that more equitably meet student needs and honor these commitments (which might include restorative justice models or the hiring of additional personnel such as social workers or school counselors). 

Our intention in asking these questions is to become better informed as community members, and to spark conversation around the topic so that we can work together towards these commitments. 

We look forward to your response to help us best prepare for the upcoming school board meeting.  

On behalf of Neighbors for a Safer Saint Albans,

Reier Erickson
Katherine Hutchinson
Kate Larose
Cheryl Malkin
Mareesa Miles
Jennifer Williamson
Zach Scheffler
Tanner McCuin
Katie McCuin
Reese Kelly
Lauren Dees-Erickson
Angela H Sturm
Mary Johnson 
Sarah E. Auer
Marianne Hunkin
Rachael Sherman

CC: Jeff Morrill, Board Chair
Michelle Monroe, St. Albans Messenger
Cate Chant, Vermont Digger
Derek Brouwer, Seven Days

Response from Dr. Kevin Dirth

Good evening,
I will attempt to answer your questions as best I can relative to our School Resource Officers.

We contract with the St. Albans Police Department for our three SRO’s.  As of last year, we have a gentleman at SACS, and 2 ladies at BFA and SATEC.  All three spend some time in our school at Fairfield as needed.   I am attaching our contract/MOU for BFA.  The other MOU’s are the same with the school names changed.  These are created in conjunction with the City and Maple Run.  The MOU’s also designate the roles and responsibilities of the SRO’s, though I believe these should be reviewed, as I think there are parts that could be clarified and changed.  

SRO’s are funded in various ways.  In BFA and SATEC, local funds are used.  For SACS, they are funded by Medicaid funds.  These funds are federal grant funds  and must be used for intervention and prevention for all students.  I see you already have the total costs of our three SRO’s, which includes their time and benefits.  

Most data we have on the use of our School Resource Officers is anecdotal.  For significant events, they are stored at the police department.  Regular/informal interactions are not logged in that database, which is most of what the interactions are.  I will say that most of this anecdotal information that reaches my level is positive – from students, staff, and parents.  On the rare occasions that we are told of negative interactions or experiences – or we observe a problem – they are immediately dealt with through communication of the school administrators and the police chief.  
SRO’s are hired for our schools in a collaborative manner between  the school and the department.  We are very careful to make sure we select someone who is trained to work with our students.  They must be much more than just a law enforcement officer.  Because of the necessary skills and attitudes that are needed, they are often the “creme de la creme” of the force.  As for evaluations of the SRO’s, since the position is a contracted position with the SAPD, they are evaluated at that level, with input from our school administrators.  Personally, I am  pleased and grateful for the good communication that occurs between the schools and the SAPD around these officers.  The communication is regular, collaborative, and substantive.  
As for the roles and responsibilities of our SRO’s, Here is a link to a document that we use and carefully follow which answers these questions.
In addition, the attached Memorandum of Understanding spells much of this out.  Please notice that an SRO should not be involved in disciplinary issues normally handled by teachers and administrators.  That is most definitely not part of their responsibilities.

As for what we consider the benefits of having a School Resource Officer in our large buildings, there are too many to list in this communication.  We will be discussing them to some degree at the brief informational presentation that will be given to the Maple Run School  Board on Wednesday, July 15.  Suffice it to say they include the need to have community policing in our schools and community, the positive relationships they build with all of our students, the knowledge they impart, and – while we don’t like to think in these terms – the security they provide in so many ways.  

Finally, I want to thank you for highlighting our Solidarity Statement which the staff created after the terrible misjustice that occurred in Minneapolis.  We strongly stand by that statement.  We know there is implicit and even explicit bias occurring in our community and, yes, in our schools, and we work everyday to do better.  It is one reason we are in the early stages of a districtwide restorative justice program and why we value and count on our school counselors, home/school workers, etc.  However, it appears from your letter that you feel that our commitment to anti-bias and anti-racism and our commitment to our SRO’s are mutually exclusive or contradictory.  I respectfully disagree.  While there are certainly some disgusting, high-profile examples of police in schools who act as bullies and tyrants and who breed hate and fear in students, it does not have to be that way.  More than ever, a positive bridge between law enforcement and youth needs to continue to be built and, if we don’t do it . . . who will?  The SRO is the perfect position to do so.  

I hope this information is helpful to you.  I notice some people on this list are my next door neighbors.  Please know you have a standing invitation to drop by, have some coffee, and discuss this further.  After all, we are all “neighbors for a safer St. Albans”.  

Take care.
Kevin Dirth

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