Looking to fight the issue of drugs in Westford Public Schools, Superintendent Bill Olsen recommended several new initiatives to the School Committee on Monday night for decisions to be determined at a future meeting.
The proposals grew from a forum earlier this year on the topic of drugs in town hosted at Nabnasset Lake Country Club as well as frequent discussions with Selectman Andrea Peraner-Sweet, Westford Academy principal James Antonelli, Westford town manager Jodi Ross and Westford Police chief Thomas McEnaney.
Olsen’s proposals included planning several unscheduled walkthroughs at Westford Academy and possibly the town’s Middle Schools by Westford Police K9 Officer Corey Peladeau, potentially looking at bringing in speakers and adding new courses on the decisions of drug use and adding a school resource police officer at Westford Academy.
The superintendent stressed the professionalism of the Westford Police force during searches and noted that they would be performed on an infrequent basis, also adding that the officer would work in plain clothes while at the school.
Training of the proposed school resource officer would take approximately six to 10 months and would require removal of a current police officer from the Westford Police roster or the hiring of a new one, with initial funding coming from Town Meeting approval.
If approved, it would mark the first school resources officer at the Academy since 2005.
School Committee member Erika Kohl applauded the concept of an officer, but cited concerns over the possible $35,000 salary, particularly after the recent and extended teachers’ contract dispute.
“For years, we’ve been cutting and we’re at flesh and working toward bones,” said Kohl. “I don’t feel comfortable that we’d done the due diligence that all the critical needs that have been met in our budget, I can’t go to the voters personally and say spending $35,000 on drugs is better than $35,000 on on the reading program that we lost against our peer towns.”
School Committee member Margaret Murray also had concerns, agreeing that something should be done, but asking for more research to be done on the effectiveness a school resource officer would have.
“It’s not that I don’t believe we have a problem, because we do have a problem, but I’m not convinced that this is the solution,” she said.
However, School Committee chairwoman Angela Harkness spoke in opposition to these concerns, noting the need for a school resources officer.
“We can’t educate if the students aren’t safe and healthy, and what we’ve been hearing is there are concerns about their safety and health,” said Harkness. “We need to look at Nashoba Tech where they have come to the conclusion that they needed to have this officer and we’ve had this officer in the past, and we’re seeing the consequences of not having one now.”
School Committee members also noted creating mandatory parental responsibility would also be a key factor, comparable to what is currently faced in the situation of student athletes who face suspensions from sports teams for school disciplinary actions.
Additionally, Olsen indicated that a new monthly disciplinary report based on substance abuse incidents that would not name students will be provided to the public starting this year.
“There’s no reason for this information to be withheld,” he said.