Task force

Task force members, left to right, included Brattleboro Union High School students Z'Aira Pacheco, Kaiya Colby, Habame Scholz-Karabakakis and Imani Namutebi.

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BRATTLEBORO — School staff are being asked to implement recommendations of a report calling for an official end to the school resource officer program at Brattleboro Union High School. Instead, a liaison would be established with the Brattleboro Police Department for responding to incidents.

“It is a process and it takes time,” Interim Superintendent Mark Speno said. “We can report out at our next meeting. I’m not going to have like a final report, but how we initiate and get started.”

After local activists with Youth 4 Change called for ending the SRO program last year, it had been suspended for the current school year so a study could take place. Concerns about potential harm of having a police officer in the building, especially to students from marginalized communities, had been raised.

On Tuesday, the Windham Southeast School District Board voted unanimously to have the superintendent’s office collaborate with BUHS administration to create a plan to implement recommendations based on the SRO Task Force’s report and present a status update at the next board meeting. The task force, which included staff and students, heard from students who reported feeling that white students had less punitive consequences than their peers of color, and administrators were not adequately responding to incidents.

Speno said he believes in looking at both school climate data from surveys of students and the contents of the report on the SRO when developing a plan to support students. Nancy Wiese, director of the Windham Regional Career Center, called for looking at various data sources and stakeholder groups.

“While I think the information that was gathered was extremely valuable, I think there are missing pieces in that work,” Wiese said of the SRO report. “And I think we need to complete the picture before we make a decision.”

Wiese, who has taken exception to how no staff from the career center served on the task force, told the board if it is “going to make decisions based on the input of a quarter of the students on campus and no other stakeholders, then you are potentially making a decision based on a false premise.”

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A teacher and students from the career center participated in interviews conducted by the task force, said Mike Szostak, restorative justice coordinator at BUHS and task force member. Task force meetings were warned and not held in secret, said Mikaela Simms, diversity coordinator.

“They were not cloak and dagger,” Simms said.

Currently, the school has a head of security staff: Deputy Sheriff Timmie Vinton, former SRO. He is “very well liked,” the report states.

Board member Deborah Stanford asked if it is possible to consider expanding the position of the restorative justice coordinator or hiring another person to assist with the program.

“There are lots of things to consider,” Speno said.

Robin Morgan of Brattleboro noted other recommendations in the report involve making a more inclusive school environment and directing more resources toward building system-wide practices for accountability and repair.

Policing affects groups of people differently, said Shea Witzberger of Brattleboro, who co-facilitated the Community Safety Review for the town that brought up the use of SROs.