TOWNSEND — The police department plans to have a trained school resource officer at North Middlesex Regional High School by fall.
There hasn’t been a dedicated, full-time SRO since the school year began in August, after Officer George Reidy stepped down from the position. That and the February school shooting in Parkland, Fla. have elevated the need to have a trained officer for the position.
“We have and will continue to care for the safety of kids at our schools,” said Townsend Police Chief Rick Bailey during an interview.
The high school hasn’t had an SRO because of limited staffing, he said, but that hasn’t prevented the department from maintaining a police presence through a rotating detail.
A handful of officers are on campus throughout the school day. They talk to staff and students and are expected to help the administration with safety.
Last Thursday, Reidy was assigned to the high school to work detail, but was removed from the assignment, said Town Administrator James Kreidler.
To help the community feel safe, Bailey encourages officers to stop in at all of the town’s schools to talk with students and staff and to make sure everything is all right.
North Middlesex Superintendent Joan Landers said police from Pepperell or Ashby also check in at the schools in their communities.
Although it would be ideal to have one dedicated SRO, Landers said having the detail has been a chance for the district to build a relationship with those officers and for them to meet students.
In response to concerns Bailey and Landers have heard about the position not being filled, he drafted a memo to residents and families of the school district about safety.
In the memo, Bailey also addresses some “misstatement of facts” about the SRO. He wrote that some community members have interpreted the situation in Townsend as a violation of state law. Among rules governing schools, Massachusetts general law states that subject to appropriation, the chief shall assign at least one resource officer to serve the city, charter school, regional school district, or county agricultural school.
The state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, which oversees and regulates the law relating to SROs, does not require school districts to have them, said spokeswoman Jacqueline Reis.
Bailey said the department hasn’t broken the law because the statue refers to requirements tied to state appropriation. North Middlesex funds $80,000 for the position and Townsend police staffs it.
Instead of paying for a salary, the school district is funding the police detail from its current budget, Landers said. The SRO position will be in the Fiscal Year 2019 budget.
Bailey hopes to find someone who wants to serve as SRO, but said he would be comfortable with any of the officers on the force working in that position.
Training will likely take place during the summer, Bailey said. Officers train to become an SRO through a certification course by the National Association of School Resource Officers.
The association offers a 40-hour certification course for officers with two or less years of experience working in an educational environment. The course covers multiple topics including crime prevention, threat response, and serving as a mentor.