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Lebanon superintendent says board’s delay on school officer won’t lead to more information

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 5/18/2021 9:50:48 PM
Modified: 5/18/2021 9:50:54 PM

LEBANON — Plans to use a study on equity and race to gauge sentiment about whether to keep or eliminate Lebanon’s school resource officer are in jeopardy after experts cautioned against polling students and teachers on the subject.

The so-called equity audit, like one underway in Hanover and Norwich, would examine and offer recommendations about school policies and procedures, Superintendent Joanne Roberts told the Lebanon School Board on Monday evening.

What it won’t do, she said, is look into personnel or take sides on whether the district should have an armed officer in schools.

“No matter who does an equity audit, it’s a different pathway,” Roberts said. “It’s an important pathway but it doesn’t provide any more information as to if the school resource officer is actually a resource.”

Roberts said she’s recently talked to experts at the Center for Education Equity, the Maryland firm hired to audit the Dresden School District. They informed her that inserting a question about the school resource officer, or SRO, into a survey could skew results because students and parents might feel as though their answers were influencing the School Board.

The audit is intended to provide information about the climate in the school district. The one in Dresden, for instance, asks students if they feel “respected” at school and if the school is welcoming to every student.

But Roberts said she’s hesitant to poll the Lebanon school community about the SRO, saying they’ve already spoken out and a survey wouldn’t normally be considered for other district jobs.

“I don’t want to set the precedent that when it’s a personnel matter, that we go back and do some kind of a vote,” she said.

The new information sends the decision whether to continue funding for the SRO back to the School Board, which wasn’t expecting to take a formal vote until the fall.

The Lebanon board voted, 7-1, last week to fund the police post for the 2021-22 school year and also seek an equity assessment that members hoped could help guide future decisions on the SRO. That study would have to be complete by Nov. 1 to influence 2022-23 school year budget talks.

Though some School Board members asked Roberts if a question could be included, School Board Chairman Dick Milius said in a phone interview Tuesday, “I think the study is not going to do what people wanted it to do.”

While none of the nine board members have called for a revote, the issue will have to be addressed “sooner rather than later,” he said.

Milius also acknowledged that some officials feel as though they don’t have enough local data to make a decision. But, he said, they’ve received dozens of letters from community members and listened to hours of public input.

The board also has the results of a citywide referendum taken in March, when residents narrowly voted, 1,011-1,006, during municipal elections to approve a nonbinding proposal to do away with the SRO post.

“At the end of the day, I think we have all the data that we’re going to have,” he said.

Although it wouldn’t address the SRO position, both Roberts and Milius endorsed moving forward with an equity audit, saying it would complement the work of a diversity and inclusion committee already working in Lebanon’s schools.

Roberts said Tuesday that she’s engaged with the Center for Education Equity to work out a timeline for creating, administering, and preparing a report for the School Board next year.

Officials have said they’d hope to see a process similar to that taken in Hanover and Norwich, where consultants this year polled parents, teachers and middle and high school students on school policies, climate and training. Elementary school students will complete a school climate survey in the fall.

The consultants found that students overall felt safe and respected, with parents holding similar positive opinions of the Dresden school district, according the first part of the report.

However, the audit recommended that Dresden conduct training to increase staff “understanding of equity; bias oppression, culturally responsive pedagogy and curriculum, and civil rights statute compliance.”

It also asked that officials conduct a “deeper dive” into test scores, student achievement, suspensions and expulsions to see if other disparities exist.

The SAU 70 Equity Committee, a group of Dresden school staff and community members, said in a letter to the school community that numbers likely don’t represent the “full picture” of experiences and promised to work with staff, students and parents to collect more information and stories.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.




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