Updated October 25, 2018: In response to a request from Village Green, Michael Laskowski sent the following statement on behalf of his campaign with Narda Chisholm-Greene: “There seems to be some confusion with our responses at the CCR debate and our responses to the SOMA Justice questionnaire. We are 100% opposed to any SRO or security guard at any of our schools carrying firearms at any of our schools. We would like to see the district re-consider the outsourcing of the security guards and make them employees of the district.”
On Tuesday, October 23, 2018, the South Orange-Maplewood Community Coalition on Race hosted its annual Board of Education candidates forum. Seven of the 8 candidates were in attendance (there are three seats up for election on the 9-member South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education; election day is November 6).
One of the questions drawing the most interest came from an audience member and involved school safety related to the potential use of armed School Resource Officers (SROs) and the ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate) training protocol. Timestamps for the question and answers by candidates are shown below, along with transcriptions of the candidates’ answers. The video is embedded below and includes the Q&A period from the forum as well as closing statements.
At 38:30 — Can anyone comment on the idea of placing armed guards or police in our schools, and also the use of the ALICE program and have you considered the potential impact of this on children of color?
At 39:30: Annemarie Maini: “I’ll answer that since I’m on the record for speaking out against having an armed guard in our schools, speaking out against an SRO. In the spring of 2016 we had received significant feedback from our students of color who came to the Board, came to a forum, and spoke about the impact of their own interactions in Maplewood and South Orange and that testimony clearly shaped my thinking on that so that’s all I’ll say on that.”
40:15 Michael Laskowski: “I’m absolutely 100% against any type of armed guard in our district. I listened to a podcast recently — I apologize, I want to pull the name up but I don’t want to be too rude here — explaining the impact of a lot of the school shootings and it was interviewing people who lived through school shootings and these schools had prepared for school shootings…. and the one thing that stuck in my mind was — I’m getting emotional and I’ve got to stop, I don’t know what’s going on here — to have a drill where you have gunshots/blanks in the building is a lasting memory and that’s not something that I want my four kids to experience or anyone else in this district. We can do a lot of things to secure our buildings, we can do a lot of things to make it safe and welcoming, but armed guards and excessive drills are unacceptable in any of our schools.”
41:30 Christopher Trzaska: “I think it was This American Life [referring to the podcast Laskowski mentioned]. That was horrifying and sad at the same time. Would I support it, support them? No. Except under one condition which is if the community for whatever reason wanted it and I don’t see that happening. I’m not dead set against it but it is not something I would advocate for. It is not something I think is needed or warranted within any of the schools in the district and it is not something I would ever push for. As far as ALICE goes — not a fan at all. I’ve said in the past that maybe if the C was dropped it was something that could be considered but it seems that Dr. Shaw had pulled that from the table and I think that’s a good thing. So we don’t have to worry about that. In terms of excessive drilling, I think the students’ mindsets, the emotional impact on students has to be considered when we look at this, particularly as you weigh it against the likelihood of an occurrence happening — I think the odds that I had read were one in 615 million — and I think when you look at that number compared to the longstanding damage that you can do to students it’s just not something we should be looking at the way we are currently looking at.”
42:52 Shannon Cuttle: “I’m a national safe schools expert [and safe schools] also means physical safety. I’m very strongly against any armed SROs in our schools. Evidence-based research has shone that SRO officers do not decrease incidents of violence within a school but actually can exacerbate tensions within a school system. Armed SROs research has also proven that it disproportionately impacts students of color, disabled students, LGBT students and other students that are marginalized in our community and contributes to the school to prison pipeline. Our community was against ALICE and it raised awareness to the school board and I was a part of that that did approach this past spring … to the school board directly … because ALICE does not match the values of our district. It is not an evidence-based research proven program and its impacts could be traumatic for our students and families. We have to look at ways that do not harden our school like castles … but be able to create welcoming affirming spaces for learning that make students feel safe and affirmed.”
44:25 Bruno J. Navarro: “One of the things that got me interested in running for the school board was the use of code red lockdown drills. My daughter, as a kindergartner, came home one night and when we asked how her day went she told us about an animal being loose in the school and naturally this led to about a dozen other questions and it sounded like a lockdown drill. We received no information about this. You know, we’re parents of a kindergarten student; this is our first experience in the district, and we had no information about what was going on, who was leading it, or what kind of support services our kids were having. I’ve heard instances of kids being traumatized. Kids being caught in the bathroom when a lockdown drill happens. Just sheer terror being inflicted upon these tiny children. I was spoiled by our preschool experience at Prospect where children are valued and listened to and considered whole people and this was something that was not happening in our schools. The dignity of our students is not being respected. So not only am I opposed to armed guards in our schools and ALICE training, which has no proven effectiveness, but we also need to be considering how we are treating our little ones.”
45:59 Marian Cutler: “I do not support armed guards/officers/SROs in our district at all. There’s just no place for them. The negative opportunities, feelings it generates are too many. In terms of ALICE, we can just do better. It has no scientific evidence. I’m a data person. There’s no evidence that says it would actually do what they say it’s going to do. So it’s a bag of goods. It’s smoke and mirrors solely. What I would like to see — building off of what Bruno was saying — I would like to see our district do a whole lot more teaching us what’s going on. If you guys are like me, I mean, I remember doing fire drills. I can tell you what the fire drill is. I can tell you what exactly happens in the district. I’ll tell you, I have a 20 year old who went through this district in lockdown drills. I have a 19 and a 10 and a 12 year old. I do not know, except for thirdhand experience, what it is to be in a lockdown drill. I don’t know if you’ve ever been in one. I’d like to see our district actually pull parents in so therefore we can actually mitigate what’s happening. We can let our children know what to expect on a lockdown drill so when Bruno’s child comes home and says, ‘Daddy, this is what’s happened,’ Bruno has all the messaging to say, ‘Let me explain why,’ because right now the district is making it so that Bruno as a parent, can’t be a parent.”
47:22 Narda Chisholm-Greene: “I am definitely not a proponent of armed guards in our schools. I think about my time here, I think about my experience at SOMS, and I remember thinking about, as a parent now, going to SOMS, there was a security guard at the desk — something I wasn’t used to. And I know based on what we are experiencing in our country right now and keeping our children safe, it’s critical, but I’m also thinking about lockdown drills and the phone call I got from my son in the classroom and the fear and panic in his voice simply because, you know, it wan’t a drill. In that scenario, the police came in armed. He couldn’t believe it; he was shocked. So I can’t imagine putting in a school people that have weapons. We’re just going to instill fear in our children. One of the things I do like and I would like to see is that the guards that would work for our district be a part of our district, not outsourced, because I think that ‘s important. I noticed the kids have good relationships with some of our security guards and those are the people we need to keep and have in our district to build that continued relationship. They have an ability to guide those kids. They open the door in the morning, they smile, and they push them along and say, ‘Hey, what are you doing today? What are you doing in the hall way?’ and they have really good relationships. We do need to ensure that the guards in our district work for our district and have a more vested interest in our kids.”