Forest Park Middle School Principal Karen Bukowski is absolutely right in predicting that community members will see her potential collaboration with the police department as proof of a chaotic and disruptive learning environment. She, like many of us, has heard the rumblings that these students are lacking discipline and the teachers have lost control. Surely, these folks will say, it is time to call Johnny Law and show this school what authority really looks like.
We don’t believe such a heavy-handed approach is necessary at the middle school, nor does it appear to be the intent of the proposal under review.
Bukowski is working with other District 91 administrators to partner with the police department and bring an officer to the school on a regular basis. Nothing has been decided at this point and educators are meeting with police at the end of the week to discuss the details. The school board is expected to review the idea in earnest next month.
Having a member of the local law enforcement agency in the schools is about as common these days as having guidance counselors. Urban, suburban and rural communities are all looking for ways to help students cope with the myriad of social and economic factors that mold their development. Police officers represent one more adult, one more role model and one more resource for these kids. The program on the table for the middle school is not about punishment, nor should it be. It’s about helping kids form a relationship with a responsible adult.
Of course, the ultimate goal here is to create a safer, more productive learning environment. Discipline certainly would be meted out by a school resource officer. Exactly how the role of mentor is squared with the role of law enforcement needs to be carefully defined by those creating the program. It would be truly unfortunate to criminalize childish behavior.
Further, it needs to be clear what recourse parents will have in the event of a grievance and to whom they should turn. In the event a school resource officer has to physically handle a student, do concerned parents take up the matter with the police chief or with the school board? Such questions are matters of policy and as the hiring body it will be the school board’s responsibility to spell this out beforehand.
Community members should expect these terms can be agreed to rather easily, as schools and police departments across the country have already done so. Forest Parkers should also take some pride in the willingness of these two organizations to come together to try and address some of the most fundamental issues in any town: education and safety. No doubt, a calmer, more secure and trusting relationship between adults and children in the middle school will mean teachers spend more time teaching and students spend more time learning.
Bukowski is steadying herself for the onslaught of doubt, but count us among the optimistic.