Darien Board of Ed supports adding school resource officer at middle school

The Board of Education let the rest of the town boards know it supports the addition of a school resource officer at Middlesex Middle School on Tuesday night. The vote, which affirms that the board supports a conversation by the Board of Selectman about adding an SRO, was nearly unanimous, with only board member Dennis Maroney voting against. The board had heard extensive testimony from Darien Chief of Police Ray Osborne, as well as former Darien High SRO James Palmieri and current Darien High SRO Bryan Wallman at its March 28 meeting.

At that meeting, Osborne spoke about the many different roles played by an SRO.

“I get monthly reports about the amount of contacts the officers have during the course of a day, or week, or month. A large number of students talk to them about things going on in their lives. Police officers can offer a different perspective,” Osborne said, pointing to the way in which an SRO can act as a counselor to students.

Wallman explained how an SRO can act as a teacher as well, pointing to his role in classrooms at DHS. Wallman gives guest lectures weekly in health classes. He also said he has lectured in political science and law classes on topics like search and seizure or school security.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Superintendent Dr. Dan Brenner told the board that the administration supports the conversation surrounding adding an SRO, and that they were happy to help facilitate board discussion of the issue. Since the SRO would not land in the Board of Education budget, it is not up to them to simply hire an officer, but rather it would come from the town.

Maroney was hesitant as he was looking for a more clear definition of the role an SRO would play at Middlesex. Specifically, Maroney asked about where the police office authority falls, saying in a security issue it would fall to the officer, but obviously in administration issues, it would be on school administrators and so on.

“It’s not always cut and dry, sometimes they overlap, and who has authority when can get a little muddy,” Maroney said. He further asked for more discussion about how middle school students might react to having an armed police officer in the building. Maroney pointed to the way in which the district allowed high school students to take part in a walk out, but did not allow middle school students to participate. Maroney also said that the recent budget had, at one point, an additional guidance counselor at Middlesex in it, and the board decided to remove that.

“We voted not to hire a full time counselor, but we are thinking of bringing in an officer to do what sounds like pseudo counseling to me,” Maroney said.

Brenner offered as much clarification as he could, explaining that in an emergency situation, administrators would yield to the SRO just as they would to police as they arrived on scene.

Brenner also said the idea of an SRO primarily functioning as security or an armed guard is inaccurate.

“I don’t think in any SRO model, the primary function is security,” Brenner said, later adding, “You’d be hard pressed to find an SRO used like that in any areas around here.”

Brenner also spoke about Palmieri’s testimony to the board at the previous meeting, recalling that has an inherent respect, and is utilized by a certain group of students who may not be as willing to talk to a guidance counselor. Counselors, Brenner explained, do a lot of work with students as well as their families, while the SRO primarily exists as a resource used only by students. “That’s a big distinguishing point,” Brenner said.

Counselors are also trained differently, although Darien SRO’s complete a 40-hour course and crisis management training.

Board Member Jill McCammon urged the administration and board to create a memo of understanding about the role. Not just because they are legally obligated to do so, but to provide a bit of clarity on the exact use and role of the SRO. The discussion about adding the SRO to Middlesex now moves on to the Board of Selectman.