CARIBOU, Maine — Within the wake of the current taking pictures at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas, one faculty district in Aroostook County is eliminating its police officer in favor of hiring extra folks to assist college students with their psychological well being points.
When confronted with an more and more tight funds, a scarcity in native legislation enforcement and a major enhance in psychological well being points amongst college students, the Caribou faculty district selected to rent extra psychological well being help and administrative workers for the approaching yr, thus eliminating its faculty useful resource officer as of July 1.
The district needs to handle points which have affected extra college students since COVID-19, resembling social media bullying and harassment, nervousness and despair, earlier than they grow to be too harmful and result in violence or self-harm, RSU 39 Superintendent Timothy Doak stated Friday.
Like faculty districts throughout the US, RSU 39 (Caribou and Stockholm) is dealing with decisions on the way to greatest reply to issues about faculty safety and the roles that cops ought to play in sustaining it. Whereas some districts see the hiring of college useful resource officers as essential for stopping school-based violence, others make investments their restricted assets in social staff, counselors and different types of non-police intervention. RSU 39, which serves 700 prekindergarten by means of eighth-grade college students and 480 highschool college students at its two Caribou faculties, is selecting psychological well being.
“Social media bullying and harassment have grow to be rampant, particularly on the center faculty stage,” Doak stated.
Although social media bullying was a problem previous to COVID-19, the pandemic compelled college students into isolation when courses switched to distant studying. Many college students spent extra time alone whereas their mother and father labored, rising their social media use, Doak stated.
College students have been to in-person courses extra throughout this faculty yr than some other time throughout the pandemic. However the elevated sense of isolation and uncertainty that grew out of the pandemic inspired many college students to speak on their telephones and social media extra, additional exposing them to bullies, he stated.
“Once I was rising up, my mom answered the cellphone and vetted all of the calls,” Doak stated. “Now, a scholar may very well be preparing for mattress and obtain a textual content with out their mother and father understanding.”
The college district has contracted with Caribou Police Division for 4 years for a useful resource officer at each Caribou Neighborhood Faculty and Caribou Excessive Faculty. The district paid town primarily based on the period of time the officer spent on faculty grounds.
The district projected its whole prices to maintain the useful resource officer subsequent faculty yr can be $80,000. The dearth of a totally staffed police division in Caribou meant that the officer frolicked at each faculties throughout solely 25 p.c of the present faculty yr — which was an element within the determination to remove the place, Doak stated.
Though the district needs to have its faculty useful resource officer return, it has determined to make use of its budgeted cash to handle psychological well being wants amongst college students, Doak stated.
RSU 39 has relied on two full-time social staff since opening the newly constructed Caribou Neighborhood Faculty in 2020. Now the district will rent a 3rd social employee, who beforehand labored as an ed tech on the neighborhood faculty however has expertise in case administration.
The thought is to handle behavioral issues which have elevated since college students returned to in-person courses, resembling anger points and college students giving up on themselves extra simply and turning into overwhelmed, Doak stated.
“There was this worry all of us had throughout COVID that’s nonetheless right here despite the fact that we’re in individual,” he stated.
Caribou Excessive Faculty has three counselors and one social employee and doesn’t plan so as to add extra within the close to future. For the primary time in a decade, the college can have a full-time assistant principal this fall.
The district sees the assistant principal as somebody who can extra simply intervene in non-crime-related scholar points, Doak stated. Maine legislation offers directors authority to conduct house visits, search backpacks and intervene in non-violent confrontations between college students, whereas faculty useful resource officers sometimes take care of crime-related issues.
Having one other administrative workforce member will even add a trusted grownup that college students can flip to in the event that they witness or expertise bullying or need to tackle psychological well being issues, Caribou Excessive Faculty counselor Rani Mehta stated.
“We inform children ‘for those who see one thing, say one thing.’ Generally we study issues [about other students] that may very well be lifesaving, so having one other one who can preserve these children on their radar is big,” Mehta stated.
College students’ and workers members’ issues over psychological well being come at a time the place even constant in-person studying has not prevented a bullying-related tragedy.
On March 3, a 14-year-old scholar from Caribou Neighborhood Faculty died. His obituary described him as somebody who stood up for the susceptible and bullied, and his household requested neighborhood members to donate to #stopbulllying.
That scholar’s story is one among many issues motivating the college to handle points resembling bullying, psychological well being and college security with college students instantly. Previously yr, Caribou Excessive Faculty workers hosted visitor audio system from Aroostook’s Homeland Safety and juvenile corrections divisions, who talked about the risks of cyberbullying.
Final fall, the previous principal of Columbine Excessive Faculty, a survivor of the well-known 1999 faculty taking pictures, spoke to college students on selling optimistic peer and grownup connections.
No matter whether or not RSU 39 reinstates a useful resource officer within the faculties, Mehta stated that robust partnerships with Caribou Police Division and different neighborhood businesses will probably be essential in stopping tragedies and inspiring optimistic student-and-adult relationships.
In a joint assertion launched this week, Doak and Police Chief Michael Gahagan mentioned a doable return of the college’s “Lunch with a Caribou Police Officer” program. In addition they stated that officers will assist the district overview its security plans, make day by day safety checks on faculty properties and help with lively shooter coaching.
Most of all, Gahagan needs college students to have optimistic relationships with native legislation enforcement and see them as a standard a part of their neighborhood.
“Even at the moment I’ve an officer who’s studying to children [at Caribou Community School],” Gahagan stated. “Any time college students can have a optimistic interplay with an officer is an effective factor. [It shows that] issues aren’t all the time like what you see on TV.”