By Jamie Wiggan
The Sto-Rox School district is planning to establish an internal police department as a first step within broader efforts to improve student safety and rehabilitate its image.
John Zahorchak, a state official tasked with implementing a sweeping financial recovery plan, said during a May 17 public meeting the district is preparing to petition the courts to form its own force with “arrest authority.”
He said many details remain outstanding but officials are looking to balance robust security provisions with an invested staff that can build rapport and respect with students.
“We have to have a [police] presence, but we don’t want them to have an overburdensome presence where they feel like they’re walking into a prison,” he said. “We’re looking for someone who wants to build relationships with the students in our district.”
Initially, the district is looking to hire three officers, and retain additional support through outside contracts, Zahorchak said. As it stands, school officials have agreed on language that “allows officers to be armed” but are still working out what that will mean in a routine context.
“Before we go down that route we want to hear what you have to say about that,” Zahorchak said.
School Board President Cameron Culliver said the ability to arm officers is crucial for active shooter scenarios, but stressed that wouldn’t necessarily require them to brandish weapons on a routine basis.
“School should always be a safe space, always,” he said. “The main security element we’re hoping to bring into this school will not be armed.”
Culliver suggested using alternative language like “community police” or “security specialist” could present a softer image to students and the wider school community.
Speaking from the audience, Jordan Allen, a school support worker through Communities In Schools, cautioned against arming school police because of the negative connotations many in the student community associate with law enforcement and the justice systems.
“Because our children are already so traumatized I feel armed officers would add more trauma,” he said.
Zahorchak stressed these discussions fit within an “ongoing situation.”
The school board approved the creation of three “security specialist” jobs during its April 28 board meeting.
Also during the May 17 event, new Superintendent Megan Van Fossan emphasized plans to boost social support services in coordination with the new security measures.
“We want to design our educational environment so it actually meets the needs of our students,” she said.