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Amherst-Pelham regional district resolves: No officer in the schools

  • BEN HERRINGTON



Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 23, 2020

AMHERST — More than 20 years ago, a proposal to bring a school resource officer to the hallways of Amherst Regional High School was dropped after an emotional debate in the community about whether students of color might feel targeted by the officer’s presence.

Although the subject of having a full-time uniformed police officer for the schools has not been broached since, the Amherst-Pelham Regional School Committee unanimously adopted a resolution Tuesday, by an 8-0 vote, to continue without a school resource officer.

The resolution states that the existing practice of not having an officer dedicated to the schools should continue indefinitely, and would “avoid the pitfalls of the school-to-prison pipeline by protecting our students from the effects of unnecessary increased interaction with law enforcement.”

Amherst representative Ben Herrington brought the resolution forward.

“The resolution is in keeping with the district’s commitment to social justice and is very much compatible with programs we already have in the district, such as our Restorative Justice program,” Herrington said.

He added that it is an important first step toward creating meaningful change by sending a message to the most vulnerable students that school officials are aware of the problems a police officer might bring to disciplinary matters.

Other committee members spoke in favor of the resolution. Amherst representative Heather Lord said it is an important step for interrupting the school-to-prison pipeline, while Peter Demling, also an Amherst representative, said security in the buildings has not been an issue.

Superintendent Michael Morris said the resolution doesn’t affect operations and that school officials will continue to have open communication with police when assistance is needed.

A police officer acting as a liaison to the department has been available to the schools in recent years, though a formal school resource officer has not been considered.

Police Chief Scott Livingstone, who didn’t take part in the discussion with the regional committee, said Thursday that he wouldn’t comment on the topic.

When last taken up, having a police officer in the schools was considered following several violent incidents, including the March 1997 placement of a homemade bomb in a locker in the middle school, forcing the building’s evacuation while the bomb was disarmed.

Herrington said he and Lord will draft a policy to flesh out the resolution. The goal is to make it a permanent policy for the school district.

“There’s a lot more that we need to do, but this gets the ball rolling in the right direction,” Herrington said.