MORRIS – Saratoga school board members approved an agreement with the Morris Police Department for a full-time school resource officer during Monday nights meeting.
Recent school shootings, such as the massacre by an armed gunman at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, renewed discussions throughout the country about school resource officers as a possible method of enhancing security around students.
In June and July, parents began voicing their displeasure over Saratoga Elementary School Board’s decision not to hire an SRO, which is an armed police officer assigned to work in the school, as Saratoga was the only public school in Morris without one.
Parents spoke out during the audience participation demanding the board hire an SRO, citing long response times, an increase in violence, and the positive impact for students.
Julie Wilkinson, a parent, said Saratoga deserved to be on “equal footing with the surrounding schools” and touched on recent violent events in the district, while urging the board to hire a full-time SRO.
“As we have discussed throughout the summer, an SRO is a valuable resource for administration and teachers,” Wilkinson said. “The events of Aug. 4, brought the reality of the troubled world around us to our front door, when a 16-year-old boy took the life of a stranger at gunpoint, in broad daylight, in Morris, in our district. As I understand that shooter may have even once walked these halls, as well.
“I ask the board in order to protect our students, teachers, and staff with a school resource officer to begin working full-time, as soon as possible,” she said.
Another parent Kevin McDonnell said that Saratoga was “not in a good area as far as the highway goes” and could take police up to 10 minutes to respond.
“As a parent, I can’t think of anything better for the safety of the kids than having a police officer here,” he said.
The board approved an SRO, 4-3 with Mallory Conde, Ann McDonnell and Ginger Jones all voting against the hire.
Patrol officer Mark Vanderploeg will begin his duties as an SRO in early September. His K-9 Niko may join him at a later date after the board reviews the policy.
Vanderploeg who has been with the Morris Police Department said that he was most excited to begin working the kids and ensuring the safety of the school.
The approval of an SRO at Saratoga was a relief to parents, whom in light of recent events felt in was a necessary step in school safety, but there was still work to be done.
“The SRO is a critical addition to Saratoga. In light of recent events locally and around the country, this position will fill a gap to improve safety and building security. The officer will also be a resource outside of a crisis – building rapport with students, serving as a mentor and fostering positive relationships with law enforcement. The SRO will be a valuable asset to our district,” Wilkinson said.