Lawrence Township board will stick with plan that puts armed officers in schools

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Despite continuing opposition from some parents, Lawrence Township Public Schools officials are standing firm in their decision to employ a handful of security personnel who are authorized to carry guns in schools.

The parents, some of whom have children enrolled in the special education program, object to allowing the school resource officer (SRO) and the two Class III special law enforcement officers to carry guns for fear the officers might shoot or use excessive force on a child who may be unable to interpret or follow their commands.

The parents have also repeatedly sought to have input on regulations regarding the responsibilities of the officers. The SRO is a Lawrence Township police officer and the Class III special officers are recently retired police officers who are filling the Class III positions and who are also employed by the Lawrence Township Police Department.

The issue, which was raised at two earlier Board of Education meetings, was raised again at the Oct. 10 meeting, and while some parents continue to object to arming the police officers, there were parents at the meeting who supported allowing the officers to carry guns.

At last week’s meeting, Superintendent of Schools Ross Kasun said he continues to receive emails regarding the decision to station the SRO at Lawrence High School and one Class III special officer at Lawrence Middle School and one Class III special officer at Lawrence Intermediate School.

Kasun said that while he can empathize with the parents’ fears, the SRO and the Class III special officers have made a positive impact on the students. He said while he could share a long list of those positives, “it will not change the minds” of parents who are opposed to it.

The goal in every school district is to keep the students and staff safe, Kasun said. There are many measures that can be taken to do so, and having police officers in the schools is one way to make them safe, he said.

A uniformed police officer is a visible deterrent and a “target hardening” measure, Kasun said. For example, robbers who see a police officer in a bank will go to another bank instead. The same principle applies to the schools – someone intent on causing harm will likely not try it if a police officer is present, he said.

In response to the parents’ request to form a committee to review the shared services agreement between the school district and Lawrence Township as it relates to the SRO and the Class III special officers, Kasun said he understands their desire, but said it is inappropriate.

“We do not have an outside committee write job descriptions for our staff. We do not have them work on contract language. You have been heard. I ask you to accept my expertise,” Kasun said.

Board President Kevin Van Hise said the shared services agreement was referred to the board’s Finance Committee. The revised version will be circulated among the full board and its attorney, and then sent to Lawrence Township officials for review.

Tam Ngo, one parent who objects to police officers in the schools, called on the board to “change its tack” and allow for a more transparent approach to allow parents to at least vet the language in the agreement.

Other parents, however, told the board they support the decision to put police officers in the schools.

Aaron Kibbey reminded the board about the Columbine High School shooting in Colorado in 1999, which has been followed by more school shootings. Columbine was a wake-up call for school security, he said.

“I applaud you” for having the courage to go ahead with the plan and do what is right for the children, instead of drawing it out and forming committees to examine it, Kibbey said.

Kiki Melvin said she was one of the parents who organized a meeting to examine school safety following the Parkland, Fla., school shooting last spring. More than 45 people attended the meeting that was held in the Slackwood Fire Company meeting room.

“Without a doubt, everyone at the meeting wanted more security for the schools,” Melvin said, but not everyone at the meeting said they wanted an armed guard in the schools. “(But) we definitely wanted something done” to improve security, she said.

Melvin said she applauds the school district and the township for acting so quickly to place an armed police officer in the schools, adding that she represents the parents who appreciate having an armed guard in the schools. It is a deterrent, she said.

Jim Drake said he takes his daughter’s safety seriously and also supports having armed police officers in the schools. While he appreciates the perspective of the parents who oppose it, putting the officers in the schools was the right thing to do, he said.