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Ithaca City School District declines placement of armed officer

The Ithaca City District school board rejected the proposal made by Ithaca High School principal Jarett Powers to place an armed school resource officer in the schools to assess other safety options.

After the events in Newtown, Conn., many communities throughout the nation are reviewing school security systems and the Ithaca City School District has been working since summer to address school safety concerns. But the school district turned down the proposal on January 25 to place an armed officer in the schools. But Jason Trumble, Chief Secondary Schools Officer,, who is in charge of Ithaca High School, the Lehman Alternative Community School, Boynton Middle School and Dewitt Middle School, cited budget issues and not the gun control debate as a primary reason. Trumble said the cost of an armed officer comes to $100,000 an academic year.

“It really came down to a budget issue,” Trumble said. “But if everybody said we needed an SRO [school resource officer], then $8,000 a month wasn’t going to stop us. You can’t put a price tag on safety.”

Disagreement in the community also contributed to the final decision. The proposal has caused divided discussion among parents and community members. Trumble said some were surprised to find out an SRO was not already in place while others believed a fully-armed police officer was not the best way to guarantee safety.

Ricky Stewart, whose grandchild attends Ithaca High School, believes an SRO should be present but unarmed.

“Too many things happen with stray bullets,” Stewart said.

Other parents were hesitant to make a decision. Bernie DePalma, father of a high school and middle school  student, said he felt uncertain about the effectiveness of an SRO.

“Considering what happened in Newtown, could an armed guard have stopped that from happening?” DePalma asked. “Or stopped the extent of it— that’s the question you’ve gotta ask.”

Some of the parents, however, show support for the proposal for an armed officer as a measure to increase school safety. Laura Andolina, mother of high school student Taylor and middle school student Turner, said she’s okay with an police armed provided “the safety issues are addressed.”

“I don’t think anyone doubts the desire to keep the school safe,” Andolina said.

The building’s layout and the multiple exits on the Ithaca High School campus is a primary safety concern, said Trumble. Ithaca High School has more than 90 doors and ten buildings on its campus. The doors are not linked by an alarm system or equipped with security cameras. However, the hallways are monitored by a motion detection system. In order to establish a safer school campus, the school board is hiring the consulting firm Boards of Cooperative Education Services next week.

“In other words, we’re going to design a work order,” Trumble said. “The Ithaca City School District is looking for firms to come in, do an assessment of all our buildings and give us recommendations on how we are optimizing our safety.”

At large student gatherings, such as a basketball game or a football game, parent Mary DePalma said she has noticed armed police officers are already present.

“It seems the officers are here anyway on a regular basis,” she said. “It seems to me that someone familiar with the students would be able to temper that acute need for [safety].”

Trumble says his primary concern is the safety of the students, especially because he is a parent of three daughters who attend elementary, middle and high schools in the district.

“I want [my daughters] feeling safe all the time,” Trumble said. “Where they feel safe is not by seeing one person with a gun, they feel safe because they’ve done the drills, they’ve seen the signs, they know the adults know what to do and they feel safe that way.”

Trumble and the acting police chiefs have tentative plans to attend a safe schools conference in Buffalo to unify local law enforcement and schools leaders and discuss further safety measures.

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