SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — School resource officers in South Kingstown might soon be operating under a new agreement between local police and educators.
The School Committee is reviewing a proposed memorandum of agreement that spells out the purpose and function of having police officers in the schools. It was introduced in early October.
“What’s unique about it is we are the ones drafting this understanding,” Supt. of Schools Mark Prince said.
A key component of the agreement is that it sets clearly-defined roles about addressing student conduct.
School administrators would be responsible for enforcing the code of conduct and responding to routine disciplinary violations. Resource officers would not serve as school disciplinarians or to enforce school regulations.
Police powers would not be used for “traditional school discipline issues including non-violent, disruptive behavior,” according to the memorandum.
The officers also could not act in lieu of licensed school psychologists, psychiatrists or counselors.
Code of conduct violations and routine discipline matters would fall to the school principal, or a designee.
SROs would, however, be tasked with investigating and responding to potential criminal offenses, and can intervene in situations in order to maintain safety.
Prince said it’s modeled after similar agreements in use in Massachusetts.
“This one is more comprehensive,” than the existing agreement, he said. “It clearly defines administrative roles and rights and responsibilities. It clearly defines the limitations of the resource officer. It speaks to an evaluation process and things like that. In the past, those things were either not included in the memorandum of understanding or not completely fleshed out.”
It also details how to allow officers to question students at both the elementary and high school levels, and affords parents the ability to be present during questioning.
The 16-page agreement also spells out a process for selecting resource officers, training, annual reviews, mechanisms to incorporate the SRO into the school environment, information sharing between officers, school staff and partners and compliance with all state and federal privacy laws, including FERPA, the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act.
South Kingstown currently has two resource officers working in pre-kindergarten through grade 12. The cost of one officer is split evenly between the schools and police department. The second officer and various traffic details outside the schools are funded by the police department, Prince said.
“I’m grateful to see this,” Committee Member Melissa Boyd said. “I think clarity is important, not just for our school employees, but also for parents and students, to understand the importance of the role and how folks can work together.”
Other committee members called the policy “robust,” and signaled their support.
“As a longtime educator, we just are automatic with confidentiality,” Committee Member Michelle Brousseau said. “It’s part of our makeup as educators, but people outside of education don’t always understand that. I’m really glad that is being brought in: FERPA regulations and confidentiality, and also the outline of aspects of the training. I’m happy with this contract.”
Prince said the agreement would receive some tweaks before being presented to the Chief of Police Matthew Moynihan.