PITTSFIELD — Pittsfield Public Schools Superintendent Joe Curtis and Police Chief Michael Wynn reached an agreement Monday over how school resource officers will operate in the district for the coming school year.
A new memorandum of understanding — it’s the agreement that lays out rules and regulations for how resource officers will be selected, and their responsibilities in schools — is negotiated each year between the district and Police Department.
The agreement lays out the process for selecting officers for the position, makes it clear that the officers report to the department and not the school district, establishes a complaint-resolution process for staff and community members, and states that an “SRO shall not serve as a school disciplinarian.”
The arrangement also draws clear lines around the sharing of student information between SROs and other law enforcement groups.
SROs are instructed not to share information about a student or their family’s immigration status, citizenship, neighborhood, religion, national origin, ethnicity or “suspected, alleged or confirmed gang affiliation” with other law enforcement agencies unless it is related to a “specific unlawful incident.”
The agreement puts the district in compliance with changes made as part of the state’s 2018 Criminal Justice Reform Act to the rules around SRO responsibilities, and information-sharing between officers and district staff.
Pittsfield Police Lt. Gary Traversa said the department and district have used memorandums of understanding to regulate the use of SROs, but that the present memorandum is the most extensive agreement to date.
Curtis told School Committee members in May and July that it had been several years since the district was in compliance with the law. He presented the memorandum of understanding to the School Committee in May, at which point several committee members requested that the district solicit community input on having police officers in schools.
When Curtis brought the agreement back before the committee last month, he said the district didn’t believe that there was enough time to get the kind of nuanced feedback the committee was seeking. He said that the Police Department needed an agreement in place before the start of the school year in order to guarantee that there still would be officers staffed to fill the SRO roles.
Traversa said that though there typically is one officer for every middle and high school in the district, this year there will only be two officers in total for those schools, because of staffing shortages within the Police Department.
School Committee member and Mayor Linda Tyer said in July that she felt that “the community expects us to continue with the SRO program until we have undertaken a more deeper community conversation.”
Committee member Nyanna Slaughter said during that meeting that, given her own experience with SROs as a former student of the Pittsfield Public Schools and the experiences of other students of color, she wouldn’t recommend that the superintendent sign an agreement with the Police Department until he had received community feedback.
“I want to make sure that the community is deeply enriched and involved when it comes to the safety and security of students inside our school system,” Slaughter said.
Speaking with The Eagle on Tuesday, the superintendent said he felt that signing the agreement for this school year and seeking input in the future was “a good compromise” for all involved.
“I think we made the right decision,” Curtis said. “This allows us to continue the service for this school year, gather the community and then bring it back to the committee and community at large to decide the next steps.”
Curtis said that previous Superintendent Jason McCandless was in the midst of constructing an up-to-date agreement for the School Committee to discuss in 2019, but that that work was sidelined when the coronavirus pandemic began early in 2020.
The superintendent said that the district is in talks to hire an independent consultant to host several focus groups throughout “the fall and possibly over the winter.” He said that, in late winter or early spring, the district would revisit the conversation around having SROs in schools.
“A more comprehensive look is going to be happening,” Curtis said.