DARIEN — The Board of Education voted on Tuesday to request a special appropriation from the Board of Finance for $631,000 toward security enhancement in the district, including nearly $300,000 to add a Director of Security and six armed school security officers to be stationed at the district’s elementary schools.
According to Addley, the new director of security would be responsible for monitoring the school campuses, providing security for school-sponsored activities, working with the police department and keeping up with the emergency response plan. He said that the school security officers would not be “first responders” to incidents of student discipline, although administrators could ask them to step in if it seemed as though the students were in danger.
“The SSOs will have interactions with teachers and will have interactions with children, but the first response in general will be our administration, the way it is today,” said Addley.
Board chair David Dineen said that the role of school campus monitor — which he described as the “warm person that everyone knows” would still be there, and that he saw the school security officers as “an added resource.”
“I almost see the SSO as being there but not being there, in terms of an invisible force … they’ll know where to be in that school in terms of keeping a handle on what’s going on,” said Dineen.
Board member Tara Ochman said she felt the board should hold a public hearing about the decision, as the board had done when the district was considering Open Choice or bringing in Student Resource Officers, saying that the new security represented a “cultural change.”
Board member Julie Best agreed, saying she wanted to hear from the public in order to hear more about what people were hoping for or worried about so that they could incorporate that feedback into their plan.
She also pointed out that the positions of school security guards would have to be brought forward into the budget for next year.
“This is a sizable commitment that we’re making financially,” said Best.
But other board members and Addley said they didn’t feel a public hearing was appropriate because the discussions involved issues of school security, a lot of which would need to be kept private. Board member Jill McCammon pointed out that bringing in the school security officers was a recommendation from the chief of police. Dineen said there had not been many public comments or emails about the plan.
“I think we’ve got the professionals involved, from the chief of the police to the superintendent. I think the work’s been done. We’ll continue to learn, we’ll continue to listen to the community, but I have confidence in executing this,” said Dineen
Board member David Brown said he didn’t see the new security plan as being a “change in culture,” as other board members had suggested.
“I think the health, safety and well-being of our students has always been the top priority of this board,” said Brown.
One parent, Amanda Callahan, spoke in favor of the school security upgrades, saying that she was “hugely impressed” by the research the board had done, including a visit to Newtown to look at their security systems. She said that a relative of hers, who she described as a survivor of a mass shooting, said that her own local school district had incorporated armed security guards, and that the impact was positive.
Chief of Police Donald Anderson said he was willing to talk with any member of the public who had concerns about the school security officers.
The board also approved $335,000 for improving the door security at all the school buildings except Ox Ridge.
Addley said that the officers would not be placed in school until January given that the funding would first have to be approved by the Board of Finance and the Representative Town Meeting.