Richard C. Dujardin; Journal Staff Writer March 13, 2001, Tuesday, Metro Edition Copyright 2001 The Providence Journal Company The Providence Journal-Bulletin March 13, 2001, Tuesday, Metro Edition
(EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I.) -- Two months after the City Council narrowly rejected a proposal to permanently assign police officers to the city's schools, school board member Edna Snow is urging the council to consider the issue again.
"This is only a suggestion, but with all the new shootings around the country we've been hearing about, I think the council should reconsider its vote," Snow said. "I think having the police inside our schools as school resource officers would have a very positive effect on our school environment."
Snow said she plans to revive the proposal for having police in the high school and middle schools as part of a general discussion on another topic she plans to raise at tonight's school committee meeting, the board's zero-tolerance policy for weapons in school.
Although she said she shares the view that the city's schools are essentially "safe" with no evidence of serious violence, the former school board chairman said she thinks that children would benefit from regularly seeing police officers in schools. Having police in schools, she says, would build up the students' trust and make it possible for the police to be mentors and role models.
"If children get used to seeing police and are able to talk with them during the school day, I think that can be a positive thing," she said. "While I think our schools are safe, a program such as this could help keep them that way."
The City Council voted 3 to 2 to reject the police-in-schools concept on Jan. 9. The request from both the Police and School Departments urged the council to endorse an application for federal funds to help make the program happen. Under the terms of the proposed federal grant, the city would have received $ 125,000 over three years for every officer it assigned to the school, leaving the city to pay $ 19,000 for each officer.
The "catch" was in the fourth year, when the city would have had to pay all the salaries and benefits for each of the four officers. Police Chief Gary Dias had said the price tag in that final year would have been about $200,000.
In rejecting the request for an application in January, two council members, Peter F. Midgley and Patrick A. Rogers, said they saw no reason to have police officers in schools and suggested that a police presence might undermine the educational environment. Mayor Joseph S. Larisa Jr., who serves as an at-large councilman, also voted against the proposal, saying he had misgivings about the ultimate cost. At the same time, Larisa said he was not opposed to revisiting the issue later.
Snow also plans to ask her colleagues to review the zero-tolerance issue. Snow said she will ask her colleagues tonight to consider whether such a policy is really needed, since the School Department already has a discipline policy in place that gives principals the right to suspend a student for up to 10 days. That policy also provides for lengthier suspensions or expulsions by the School Committee if the situation warrants.
Snow acknowledged that she is of two minds when it comes to zero tolerance.
While such a policy can "send a signal" that having weapons in school is a serious infraction, she said she's not sure imposing a long suspension or an expulsion is the way to go.
"It sort of defeats the purpose of education to suspend a child from school, because when you do that the children aren't learning anything," she said. "I just wonder if there isn't a better way to handle these cases, such as the school superintendent having the child undergo psychological testing. I also think the School Committee should be involved, and have a hearing before any student is suspended for a long time, because it affects the community."