RCSD school board not interested in reinstating school resource officers

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. — The shooting on the front steps of Franklin High School in Rochester last week has reignited the discussion about whether the Rochester City School District should put school resource officers back inside high schools.  

The board cut funding for the positions in 2020 saying it was part of an effort to break the so-called “school-to-prison” pipeline.  The Rochester Teacher’s Union and BENTE have called upon the district to reinstate the funding and the officers citing a myriad of safety concerns since the removal of the officers but the school board has been steadfast in its refusal to reconsider the matter.

School Board President Cynthia Elliot said this week, there were too many issues with schools jumping to criminally punish students instead of properly discipling them.  But, a former SRO who worked inside a Rochester high school, feels much differently. 

Adam Wagner actually went to college to become a teacher but after graduation he decided on the Police Academy instead. 

After several years on the beat with RPD, he combined his passions and became a school resource office at Edison Tech, “we were there for safety and security to make sure these kids had a good learning environment, a safe learning environment which they all deserved and sometimes they were coming to school and it was safer there than it was at home, he tells News10NBC. 

Officer. Wagner says he built a number of relationships with students and got a better understanding of the challenges many of them were facing.  He recalls one student who kept ending up in his office, “I learned a lot about him, he was trying to basically be a parent at a young age because his mom worked overnights and he had a bunch of siblings so, his job was to get everybody in order and get them to school on time and then you could see where it was kind of causing issues with him in school,” he says, “being in the school allows us to build those individual relationships with the kids and they would tell us stuff, there was a lot of Intel that we would be able to gather being in the schools that now are missing the opportunity to be involved with.”

The Rochester City School District pulled all resource officers out of City schools in 2020, “we’ve had some of our schools that have used police officers as counselors, we don’t want that to happen so, if there has been some kind of altercation, they send them to the police as opposed to trying to do it from a preventive way, and have counselors be involved in that,” President Cynthia Elliot said this week. 

Ofc. Wagner says that wasn’t his experience, “in the 2 1/2-3 years we were there, we physically took to jail, less than five kids…especially when everything happened in May 2020 with George Floyd and people not trusting us as a community, we took the number one thing away. With us being in schools that was your community-based relationship, without having cops in schools and developing these relationships with the kids, where else are we really doing it,” he says.

The SROs were replaced with school sentries or, safety officers who are unarmed and provide security and support services.  Those sentries are represented by BENTE.  The President of BENTE tells News10NBC, there are currently 20 open positions with a starting salary of $19/hour. 

Dan DeClemente says a number of members have said the pay isn’t high enough for a job that “puts people at risk”—and has asked the district to consider upping the starting hourly rate to $25/hour.   

While the RCSD school board isn’t considering reinstating School Resource Officers, it did vote on Tuesday to approve costs associated with stationing Rochester Police Officers at 5 RCSD high schools during drop-off and dismissal times for the rest of the school year.   

More about Franklin High School incident