ST. ALBANS CITY — The Maple Run Unified School District will end its school resource officer program and create a police liaison program in its place by Oct. 1, the district’s school board voted Wednesday night.
The decision, which came after more than an hour of debate that was at times contentious, means three St. Albans Police Department officers will no longer be stationed in the district’s schools by the beginning of October.
Eight board members voted in favor of eliminating the program. One member, Peter DesLauriers, voted against ending it.
Maple Run serves St. Albans City and Town, as well as Fairfied.
The board has not yet detailed how the new police liaison program would look, though members agreed to model it after a program in place at the Essex Westford School District in Chittenden County.
Maple Run Superintendent Bill Kimball gave board members an overview Wednesday night on how Essex Westford’s program operates.
Local police officers are in the schools only when requested, and they wear a casual uniform. They are not involved in school discipline or behavior issues and do not monitor school hallways or common areas.
The officers may provide instructional support as requested, such as for driver’s education. They also supply emergency response and may work on Department for Children and Families investigations involving members of the school community.
Reier Erickson, one of the community members who has advocated for the removal of school resource officers in Maple Run for more than a year, said Wednesday night he was “relieved that the right decision was made.”
“I think that a really big step forward was made in the district for equity,” Erickson said. “I’m really looking forward to what future actions the board does in terms of equity and just making sure that school’s open for all.”
The board’s decision comes two months after a parent-led committee released 10 recommendations for the program that proposed “clarifying and narrowing” the roles of St. Albans Police Department officers in the district.
The committee, which met seven times from January through June, did not come to a consensus on every recommendation. Two members wrote letters dissenting with its final decision and stating they felt the committee’s work was incomplete.
Wednesday’s meeting was the fourth time since June that the Maple Run school board has publicly considered changes to the school resource officer program.
DesLauriers, the lone “nay” vote, said multiple times Wednesday he was concerned that removing school resource officers could compromise the security of the district’s schools.
The program came under scrutiny last year after a report found that a student with disabilities was arrested in 2019 by then-school resource officer David French. St. Albans City later settled a civil rights complaint for $30,000 over the incident, in which French pinned the student to the ground and insulted him.
Maple Run pays about $250,000 a year for the program — among the highest in the state, according to a VTDigger analysis. About 25 supervisory unions and large districts in Vermont employ at least one school resource officer.
A handful of the Vermont school districts, including Burlington and Montpelier, have taken police officers out of their buildings in the past year.
Maple Run’s board also considered data from surveys of the district’s students in grades 7 through 12, as well as staff, about the school resource officer program.
About 56% of students who answered the survey said they thought officers should be in the schools, and about 30% said they had no preference. Of the students who answered “no,” about 45% identified with a minority demographic in the district.
More than 70% of students said they rarely or never interacted with an officer, while about 14% said they did so once a week and 8% said they did daily.
According to the data, 70% of staff said they thought officers should be in the schools, while 18% were unsure or had no preference.
Board Clerk Alisha Sawyer said even though a majority of respondents indicated they wanted to keep the school resource officer program, it is “not a majority rules issue” because the district has such a small population of students from marginalized backgrounds.
“If we continue to have majority rules,” Sawyer said, “we’re going to continue to have inequities.”
If you want to keep tabs on Vermont's education news, sign up here to get a weekly email with all of VTDigger's reporting on higher education, early childhood programs and K-12 education policy.