Reed discusses school safety in Silver Creek

OBSERVER Photo by Nicole Gugino Congressman Tom Reed speaks with Silver Creek High School seniors Hunter and Cassandra and School Resource Officer Westley F. Johnson III Friday.

SILVER CREEK — As students were dismissed Friday afternoon from Silver Creek School, they waved enthusiastically to Westley F. Johnson III, their school resource officer.

“I love coming to school. I love coming to work. … These kids take me young,” he said, mentioning it’s about building relationships.

Congressman Tom Reed (R-District 23) met with Officer Johnson, Superintendent Todd Crandall, School Board President Matt Bogosian and seniors Hunter and Cassandra Friday to talk about school safety.

Reed expressed his support for school resource officers as part of the solution to preventing school violence.

Hunter and Cassandra said they both are close with Officer Johnson and they and their peers feel comfortable going to him or other adults in the district with issues.

OBSERVER Photo by Nicole Gugino Congressman Tom Reed (middle left) sit between Silver Creek School Resource Officer Westley F. Johnson III (far left) and Superintendent Todd Crandall and speaks with seniors Hunter (middle) and Cassandra (far right) and School Board President Matt Bogosian.

“The research shows the best way to stop a tragedy is for a student to tell an authority or an adult they trust. We work hard to establish that climate here. I was speaking to Officer Johnson this morning … and he said ‘We have to create an environment where even if the students don’t like me, they respect me where they could come talk to us,'” Crandall said.

Reed asked the students if they felt closed in with new school security measures.

“I just feel like it’s the necessary precautions that need to be taken with the change in society, the school shootings that are happening. Everyone always thinks, ‘It’s not going to happen here. It’s not going to happen to us,’ but it’s important to have those measures that we can take in case something does happen,” Cassandra answered.

Bogosian, who has been a school board member for 19 years, agreed an SRO is essential.

“I’ve been on the board since before we had school resource officers, since before Columbine. When Columbine happened, of course, it changed everything. We were one of the first districts to get a school resource officer, 17 years ago now. When we first got one, we thought we wanted a highly-trained, armed professional in the school. In case something happens, they’d be able to react. What I’ve learned over these years that’s as important as that is that relationship that he has with our students and the preventativeness and intangibles, you can’t even measure the extent of the effectiveness with the students,” he said.

He added as a parent himself, he is concerned about the issue, but as a board member he feels responsible for students’ safety. He asked Reed if there is a no-fly list, why there cannot be the same for owning a gun.

Reed said owning a weapon is a constitutional right as well as citing problems with the no-fly list procedure. During discussions Reed also took the stance that this is not a gun-exclusive debate — violent mental illness should also be considered.

“Mental illness is where there’s much more of a conversation starting to gain some traction (in Washington), but the problem we’re getting is it gets gobbled up by the headlines. It’s hard to … articulate the issue in 30 seconds. So when you start talking about a gun, ‘here’s a gun, here’s the issue. Take it away. OK, solved the problem.’ That’s how they try to deal with it, but I know … that it’s much more serious than that. So what we’re trying to do is raise the issue of mental illness and say, ‘Look it, if you want to talk about gun, let’s also talk about this.’ Because when talking to these people, shooters, you know there is something more serious wrong. It wasn’t just that there happened to be a gun around, it was here (mental illness),” he said.

He mentioned his support of $2.3 billion in aid, a portion of which will be competitively available to fund SRO positions. He also said he would fight for the district to receive more federal impact aid, which offsets the tax levy when there is untaxed land like the Cattaraugus Indian Reservation in a district’s boundary.

Bogosian and Crandall said it is also important to the district to not cut title funds, which pay social workers’ salaries.

Reed said he understands, but is faced with the problem of the $20 trillion debt. He added these face-to-face meetings with constituents help him do his job back in Washington.

Reed said he had several takeaways from the meeting, “The importance of the school resource officers to this issue of gun violence in our schools, input from board members on some of the financials and sharing some of the messages of hope that there are resources there that we can tap into financially, but to solve this problem is going to take all of us coming together out of respect and really getting to the roots of the issues to solve them.”