Parents express concerns regarding school safety during Saratoga School Board Meeting

MORRIS – Saratoga Elementary parents expressed their concerns during this week’s school board meeting that the building their children attend does not have a designated school resource officer.

Parents who spoke during Monday night’s Saratoga school board meeting raised other safety concerns, but voiced their displeasure over the board’s recent decision not to hire an SRO, which is an armed police officer assigned to work in the school.

Recent school shootings, such as the massacre by an armed gunman at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, have renewed discussions throughout the country about school resource officers as a possible method of enhancing security around students.

During Monday’s board meeting, parent Julie Wilkinson asked officials to hire an SRO. She said that would help enable students to better focus on learning.

“The board’s lack of interest so far in accepting the offer from the city and the Morris police department to have an SRO has been disappointing,” Wilkinson said.

“I ask the board to use every resource to ensure that students are able to focus on learning and staff can focus on nurturing and growth. Please be proactive about adding an SRO, we really cannot afford to wait,” she said.

Christina Van Yperen, another concerned parent told the board she felt members were “missing the mark”.

Currently, every public school in Morris has an SRO, except Saratoga Elementary School. The city of Morris had previously included two additional officers in its May budget to have the ability to offer an SRO to the school.

Morris Police Chief Alicia Steffes spoke to the board to express her willingness to maintain their current amicable relationship and assist with any questions or concerns members may have in regard to hiring an SRO.

“I am here to let you know that whatever level or whatever you need we will be here to discuss that,” Steffes said. “If you would like us just for special events, or you would like to have an officer at games or assist with the school emergency plan.”

Steffes offered herself and the department to be available for any future questions regarding an SRO.

Scott Thorson, school board vice-president, acknowledged that he had been undecided, but after speaking with other districts he realized the importance of adding an SRO.

“We need to take a serious look into this. I know at first I was on the fence, I didn’t know which way I wanted to go. I have friends that are in education in other districts and I was told this was a great service,” Thorson said.

“I definitely think we should have a presence here, I would rather be proactive than reactive,” he said.

After further discussion about the role of an SRO and laying out a potential job description, the board went into closed session.

Some parents said they felt their voices were heard, but that there was still work to be done.

“I’m leaving here feeling a comfort that the discussion has been opened and will continue ...,” Van Yperen said. “And that is really what we wanted.”

“We wanted to be heard and we wanted a topic to come back to the table that we felt maybe was rushed through maybe due to lack of knowledge of the community not knowing what was going on,” she said.