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Mass shootings put police officers' place on school campuses in question

71 school resource officers work in 29 school districts in Maine, but after the alleged inaction of officers in Uvalde, the place of police in schools is questioned.

MAINE, USA — The role of police officers on school grounds is having a reignited debate following the mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas that killed 19 children and two teachers.

But what brought the debate to a nationwide conversation was the ongoing investigation into Uvalde's school district police department revealing the police chief not bringing his radio with him during the shooting.

It's now bringing the debate to Maine, where the relationship between school resource officers and school communities is ever-evolving.

On June 7, the Hermon School Department near Bangor had a committee meeting where they approved to begin the process of hiring a school resource officer (SRO).

"Unfortunately what happened in Texas kind of started a chain reaction and parents taking an informal pulse of the community," Superintendent Micah Grant said. "I think we all have the mentality of it won't happen in our town and I just see time and time again we don't have the luxury of thinking that way anymore."

That SRO, when hired, will join the 70 SROs working in 29 school districts in Maine.

The city will hold a vote next Thursday, June 16, to finalize the allocation to hire the RSO who will work at the district's three schools.

Gun violence advocates said that officers brought into a school environment must have proper training to be effective.

"We have a crisis in this country and every possible solution should be considered, including adjusting how SROs are trained and how they're used," Geoff Bickford from Maine Gun Safety Coalition said.

Attorneys representing juvenile defendants say SROs can be damaging to youth and create traumatizing scenarios for children of color and children with developmental disorders.

"You really need to be thinking about whether you need more social workers to really help those kids work on and manage those problems," Ned Chester, who's worked in juvenile court for nearly 40 years, said.

"Using school resource officers to respond to disability-related behaviors, sometimes it'll land kids in juvenile court and that's not necessarily therapeutic," Amber Miller, a former special education teacher and an attorney working with Chester, said.

Two years ago Portland Public Schools got rid of its SROs after pushback from parents and students of color citing fear and intimidation during police encounters.

Portland Public Schools Superintendent Xavier Botana wasn't available for an interview Thursday but communicated over email that the district has no intention to bring SROs back.

The Maine Department of Education's School Safety Center said its created a voluntary training for schools and SROs.

Jonathan Shapiro at the MDE's School Safety Center said schools have to select SROs carefully.

"You have to focus on the entire picture and in order to do that no one person can do that, you have to have cross-discipline, you have to bring all parties together to work towards one goal, which is student safety," Shapiro said.

The MDE's School Safety Center is hosting a school safety summit online and in person. You can find more details about the event, taking place from June 21 to June 23 here.

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