I have attended two council meetings and two Board of Education meetings regarding Class III police officers. So far, I have not heard a compelling argument about why we need police officers in the schools. The administration has been spreading fear monger excuses stating “the choices are, hiring this type of police officers or doing nothing.” There are other solutions that have not been implemented yet. For example:

1. Security vestibules in all schools.
2. Bullet proof glass in the windows.
3. Authorizing access of the district camera system to the West Windsor Plainsboro police departments.
4. Reviewing enhanced visitor control management systems.
5. Considering the purchase of additional video surveillance equipment.
6. Investigating upgrades to the district phone system.
7. Analyzing enhancements to fire alarm systems.
8. Prepare rekeying of door locks at all district facilities.
9. Improve room and window signage in all buildings.
10. Partner with the Mercer County Rapid Response Team and all other Mercer County school districts to ensure consistency with protocols and training.
11. Contract with mental health providers for enhanced counseling support for staff and students.
12. Discuss ways to increase understanding of “see something, say something.”

There are still ample measures that can be put in place and that have not been explored. We do not need to have police officers present in all our schools. Elementary students are still very young and impressionable, and their childhood needs to be respected.

— Veronica Mehno, West Windsor

***

On June 26, the West Windsor-Plainsboro School Board voted 5-3 to fund a program to sharply increase the law enforcement presence in our schools. The cost of this 5-year program is over $500,000 a year and would put an armed retired police officer (Class III officer) into each school, in all grade levels. In order for the program to go into effect, West Windsor Council and Plainsboro Township Committee will now need to approve service agreements at upcoming meetings.

It is unfortunate that the School Board vote and the township governing body discussions are happening in the summer, when teachers, students and parent associations are not in school. This program represents a significant change and increased cost in the security protocols in our schools.

We urge any residents with concerns about the approval and implementation of this program to immediately contact their council or commitee members in advance of their votes on the service agreement.

In presentations in favor of this program, Superintendent David Aderhold and police officials have pointed to a state government NJ SAFE Task force recommendation supporting these so-called School Resource Officers. However, this report did not base its recommendations on evidence.

By contrast, more comprehensive reports (like from the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, or the nonprofit Council of State Governments) state that there is “limited” and “conflicting” evidence that SRO programs increase school safety, or can do so in a way that does not introduce unintended harm—particularly to underrepresented minority students.

Indeed, in presentations, officials have been long on good intentions and positive anecdotes but silent on data—data to demonstrate a local need for increased security, data to show that proposed training modules actually result in de-escalation and reductions in bias, data they plan to collect to support their hypothesis that increased law enforcement in schools will lead to safer schools.

It’s troubling to us that the administration, police and the School Board are implementing a costly program that has no clear evidence of efficacy. Further, they are implementing this program without a dedicated mechanism to identify, follow and publicly report measurable benchmarks to ensure efficacy without harm. A 5-year program is too generous—a program that is not evidence-based should at the very least be limited to a 2-year experiment, with renewal contingent on transparent oversight and proven efficacy.

Our schools are well funded, but our resources are not limitless. The money we spend on this security program could be used on educational and infrastructure priorities that are more urgent and provide greater and proven returns.

We owe it to ourselves to think carefully about whether this program is what we want, and if we do, to commit to the necessary tracking alongside its implementation.

— Shin-Yi Lin
Matt Weber
Lynne Azarchi
Kani Ilangovan
Andrew Kulley
Mark Pepper
Grace Power

The above are all residents living in the WW-P school district.