Fredonia continues to debate School Resource Officer position

The Fredonia Board of Education received a school resource officer job description proposal from Superintendent Jeff Sortisio at its meeting this past week. But there’s still much up in the air about the position, which upset some members of the audience.

Drafted by Chautauqua County civil service workers off a list of expectations developed by district officials, the one-page description calls for a “school safety advisor.” It seeks someone with five years’ experience in law enforcement. In addition to school security duties, the person would conduct various workshops with the district community and keep it informed about various health, safety and emergency planning issues.

The school safety advisor would not be part of an existing police agency and would not have arresting powers, but would be required to have private security training, including firearms training.

The document is not a final draft. “There could be more development in terms of a civil service description,” Sortisio said.

Board President Michael Bobseine sought opinions about the draft from fellow board members at the meeting. “I felt it addressed the needs of students. I felt it covered everything that needed to be covered,” said Heath Forster.

Tom Hawk asked what the workshops would entail; Sortisio told him they could cover things such as prom time choices, drug and alcohol use, and social media issues. Dave Giambrone said the job description covered more territory than that of the D.A.R.E. program officers years ago, and he approved of it.

“Our student safety is of the utmost concern, but we wanted more than a student resource officer,” said Brian Aldrich. “This provides that.” He said district officials should think twice about requiring the advisor to have a pistol permit and carry a firearm. “It’s similar to having a firearm in the cockpit of an airplane — it gives an individual with ill intention the possibility of obtaining a firearm,” he said.

Sortisio said he asked for the pistol permit requirement with the intention of “hardening our target,” but acknowledged that since the position would not belong to an existing police agency, the district would have to ensure the individual was trained. Pointing out that mass shootings are often over in a few minutes, he said that if having someone with firearms training saves lives, “it behooves us to move in that direction.”

New board member Lisa Powell Fortna wondered how realistic it was that they could find a suitable candidate. “It’s a big job with a very diverse set of activities,” she said.

Bobseine replied that they should see what they get with this description. “We’ve asked a great deal of patience from this community … frankly, we as a board wanted to think a bit out of the box in how we accomplished this and what we did with our resources,” he said. “We don’t know how it’s going to work. We’re kind of throwing a lot at the wall, but with the expectation that a good bit sticks.”

Sortisio concluded the discussion by saying he’d be open to bringing parents, teachers and board members together for the committee that interviews the candidate.

“I will not bring in someone who does not fill our needs to simply fill the position,” he said. “It’s too important.”

Community members Andrew Ludwig and Maureen Blackburn then criticized the board’s actions on the school resource officer issue during the public speaking portion of the meeting.

Ludwig — a former teacher and principal in the district, and a candidate for the board spot Fortna was named to fill — said the board has discussed the issue for years. “It’s just mind boggling to me that our neighboring districts can fill these positions,” he said. Suggesting the board should survey the Fredonia Police Department and members of the public about what they wanted, he concluded, “You said you were gonna get it done, let’s get it done.”

Blackburn was unhappy with the proposed position’s lack of association with a police agency. “A school social worker is not a law enforcement officer,” she said.