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Lebanon School Board mulling debate over campus officer after city vote

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 3/25/2021 9:31:16 PM
Modified: 3/25/2021 9:31:31 PM

LEBANON — School officials hope to start taking public input on the future of Lebanon’s school resource officer after city residents voted earlier this month to “discontinue” the post.

However, members of the Lebanon School Board haven’t settled on how to best solicit comments during their next meeting, scheduled for April 28.

Several board members said this week that they want to hear from people before making a decision to either keep or defund the position held by Lebanon Police Officer Gregory Parthum.

At the same time, members say, they’re leery of conducting a town hall-style event that could take up several hours.

“The plan is in flux,” School Board Chairman Dick Milius said in a phone interview Thursday.

“I want this to be an orderly discussion,” he added. “This is a very high-emotion decision and we want to make sure the board has all the information in its hands.”

How to best receive input — and whom to listen to — was debated during a Wednesday School Board meeting where activists argued students, teachers and the activists themselves should be allowed the same amount of time as Lebanon police and city officials.

Sarah Wright, a member of Rise! Upper Valley, said the city is watching after residents narrowly voted, 1,011-1,006, to approve a nonbinding proposal to do away with the school resource officer position.

The board’s next steps need to be “intentional” and reflect community voices, she said.

“It would be tragic and harmful to our community’s well-being if this process ends up privileging the same voices that already hold the most power in this community,” Wright said.

Meanwhile, Lebanon resident Luke Howard said that giving more time to school administrators and police would create an “unbalanced situation.”

Invitations need to be “extended in all directions in order for the board to really make a properly educated decision when it comes to this,” he said.

Those comments echoed a recent email sent to the School Board by Asma Elhuni, a Lebanon resident and the movement politics director for Rights & Democracy New Hampshire.

She stressed that the fate of the school resource officer should be a community conversation where local groups and activists can make formal presentations.

“It would be extremely unjust if this dialogue gives disproportionate speaking time to the police department and others who support the SRO position, particularly in light of the fact that Warrant Article 7 was successfully passed in the recent election,” Elhuni wrote.

The email was co-signed by several activist groups, including the Upper Valley chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, Rights & Democracy, and the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire.

Andrew Gamble, president of the Lebanon teachers union, and members of the volunteer committee that petitioned last year for the Welcoming Lebanon Ordinance also signed the email.

This isn’t the first time community members have lobbied the School Board about its decision-making process, and who’s included in it.

Last year, a coalition of parents, doctors and public health experts started a petition to return to five-day in-person learning amid the COVID-19 pandemic, arguing that the school district’s planning team didn’t consist of “appropriate expertise” such as epidemiologists and pediatricians who live in the city.

While School Board members considering the SRO issue have requested more information from police — such as statistics on how many students are charged with offenses — they said it’s unlikely anyone will be invited to hold a formal presentation.

Instead, board members appeared to prefer to hold an information night, where people could make limited comments, and then hold a formal vote in May. Some members also encouraged the school district to create an email address that people could send statements to in advance.

“There’s a lot of information coming in and I think sometimes we all need to process and talk with other people and then potentially come back,” Superintendent Joanne Roberts told the board.

Milius said on Thursday that he’s working with the school district’s administrative staff to plan for the meeting and possibly advertise an address where comments can be sent.

“We have a month to figure this out,” he said. “That’s the goal.”

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




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