Role of Police in Schools Questioned Again

The role of a school resource officer in the wake of a story about the deportation of a Honduran student was raised again Monday night by a  resident addressing the Huntington school board.

But Josh Dubnau didn’t get the response he was hoping for. He spoke twice, in each of the two public sessions that bookend board meetings. His most recent question was, “What  changes if any have been unilaterally put in place to prevent kids being labeled as gang associates?” which is at the center of the Pro Publica story about how Alex, a Honduran student at Huntington High School, was identified as a possible associate of MS-13 and later arrested and then deported to his home country.

Board members and Superintendent James Polansky typically don’t answer questions, and say so at the beginning of the public sessions. In this case, however, after Dubnau again asked about policy at the second public forum, Board President Jennifer Hebert responded, “not the forum to address this.”

Polansky and Dubnau clashed at the last board meeting over how the resident characterized the the superintendent’s response to requests for public participation in the process of defining the school officer’s role. Polansky told Dubnau he would be glad to meet with him to discuss the topic.

At issue is what the officer, or SRO, does. In previous meetings, residents, including parents and alumni, raised questions about the process of setting guidelines for police officers in the schools while continuing security for students and staff in the buildings.  Some argued for community involvement in determining the details of a memo of understanding between the Suffolk County Police Department and the school district. Polansky said he is working with the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association to develop a consensus.

In a recent interview, Dr. Kenneth Bossert, Elwood schools superintendent and president of the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association said, there would not be a memo of understanding between schools and the Suffolk County Police Department, because an MOU would constitute a legal contract but rather, an agreement. “The association is working with SCPD to develop a roles and responsibilities description that we can share so that community has a better idea,” Bossert said. “The superintendents  are strong advocates for a 20-year successful program” to keep the schools safe. “The SRO is completely voluntary,” Bossert said. “If schools wish to participate they can. If they don’t, they have that right.”

In addition, Town Supervisor Chad A. Lupinacci issued a statement Monday about a brawl and then a stabbing that occurred Jan. 9 at the Big H Center between Huntington High School students that led to the arrest of three Latino students who were immediately identified as MS-13 members, and later another student, who is 16 and therefore not named. The violence occurred two days after a large turnout for a school board meeting about the deportation article and procedures involving the SRO.

Lupinacci said, in part, “The Town of Huntington is a beautiful, diverse Town, with quaint, historic downtown areas, award-winning schools and world-class cultural attractions. Recent violent incidents, which occurred in different locations of a private parking lot in Huntington Station, have raised concerns about public safety in our Town.

“The property on which these recent incidents occurred is privately owned. While the Town does have an agreement with the property owner to enforce handicap parking in the lot, this is a law enforcement issue. The Town has taken a proactive approach to address the public’s concerns after news broke on the first incident, which occurred January 9, 2019. 

“In early February, my staff and I hosted a meeting with various law enforcement, school district, Town and Suffolk County officials to discuss how we can coordinate the sharing of information and services, integrate our video surveillance monitoring capabilities with other camera networks, and expand or build out our existing video surveillance infrastructure. The primary purpose of the meeting was to identify how our respective levels of government can work together more effectively, also opening what will be an ongoing dialogue, given the scope and nature of the challenges facing our Town.

“Topics discussed included the School Resource Officer (SRO) program; alleged gang-related activities; information and technology sharing; public perception of incidents; and other details related to the collaborative handling of the overarching public safety issues. 

“Some of the topics discussed remain outside of the Town’s authority to address, such as law enforcement concerns within the school districts, but the opened dialogue offered a productive sharing of ideas; in particular, how the Town can support law enforcement as the police department does its job.

“Lastly, I want to make clear that we’re not going to rush to judgment on what was at root of these recent violent incidents but we’re not going to condone any type of violence, intolerance or criminal behavior in the Town of Huntington. This is a wonderful place to live and raise a family and I want to assure the entire community we serve that we are working together at all levels of government to keep it that way.”

 

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