By Jenn Smith
The Berkshire Eagle
DALTON, Ma. - The "Save Officer Strout" campaign continued last night as six students, accompanied by their parents, made a plea to the Dalton Select Board to find funding to keep their school resource officer.
Since the beginning of the year, the Central Berkshire Regional School District's School Committee has been talking about cutting the position of Dalton Police Officer Deanna Strout as the school resource officer of Nessacus Regional Middle School.
The reduction was brought up as a result of the demand for the school district to provide a level-funded budget.
Children started petition
Upon hearing that the school resource officer's job was in jeopardy, sixth-graders Katie Gingras and Rebecca Grunow took the initiative to start a petition, gathering more than 300 signatures in a day to save Strout.
But despite their efforts, the officer was officially notified last week that she will no longer have a job at the school for the next year. Instead, she will go back to regular patrol duty.
"Not only was (Strout) devastated, so were the students who heard," wrote the children in a petition letter presented to the Select Board, as well as other town and school officials.
One of the top reasons for concern discussed in the 40-minute conversation was the children's loss of a sense of security.
Sixth-grader Anthony Baroli told the board and audience how he was confronted with an issue of marijuana at his bus stop.
"Officer Strout is the first person I would go to," he said. "She helped me settle down about it."
Bullying, mediation, intervention
Strout herself reported that she's dealt with 212 activities that were logged in her daily records through the beginning of March.
Though she said the majority of issues she deals with involve bullying, other activities ranged from mediation to intervention to simply giving advice.
On a more glaring note, she also reported that arrests within the school have gone up 100 percent since last year. She said that there have been three knife incidents at the school in the last two weeks alone.
"Taking (a school resource officer) out would be endangering students and staff at our school," Baroli said.
"I doubt that we're any different from any other school," she said. "But in Dalton, I think people tend to turn a blind eye and say, 'This doesn't happen in my town, in my schools.' But I can tell you it does.
"Taking that resource officer out of that school is a step backward," she said. "And I'm really worried about that."
Over the past several weeks, both the Dalton Select Board and the School Committee have been in talks with children, parents and the Dalton Police Department. But no other actions have been taken.
The major issue is funding, with the original federal COPS in Schools grant ending with the school year.
And with no funding to renew it, the cost of the resource officers falls into the laps of the school district and the town.
"We'll pay for it as long as the school does. But we can't fund it all," said Select Board Chairman Thomas Szczepaniak.
"What we don't realize is the impact it's going to have behind the scenes," said Selectman David Fairfield.
"Kids enter the world today without knowing how to deal with issues. (This) may prevent them from going down the path of further violence," he said. "It would be an absolute shame to let that go."
Copyright 2007 The Berkshire Eagle MediaNews Group, Inc. and New England Newspaper Group Inc.
Mass. students plead for school resource officer