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Seeking best route to safety


Tantasqua resource officer debated again



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The debate over whether or not Tantasqua Regional High School needs a resource officer, and how one would be funded, has been at the forefront of debate in the Sturbridge area for several months. Christopher Tanguay. (click for larger version)
July 27, 2009
STURBRIDGE — On April 20, 1999, the concept of school safety was shattered when 15 people were shot and killed at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo.

Eight days later, one student met the same fate at W.R. Myers High School in Taber, Alberta, marking Canada's first-ever fatal high school shooting.

In the last 10 years, there have been numerous school shootings around the world; most notably here in the United States are the October 2006 shooting at an Amish school in Nickel Pines, Penn., which left five girls dead, and the April 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech, which saw a death toll of 33 people.

At a budget hearing in March, the Sturbridge Finance Committee presented their own concerns over the lack of a full-time school resource officer stationed in Tantasqua Regional High School — which they feel, would prevent such a violent tragedy from happening to the Tantasqua School Committee.

According to Larry Morrison of the Finance Committee, a "ghastly occurrence," is inevitable at a school with a population like that of Tantasqua — 1,300 students.

Not feeling vindicated for their efforts, the Finance Committee presented the same concern to the Sturbridge Board of Selectmen a couple months later.

"I think they heard, I don't think they listened," Morrison said after that June meeting.

Selectmen were careful not to willfully accept the full burden of a resource officer for the school that is used by students from four other communities.

The Tantasqua Regional School Committee will meet with the Finance Committee, Board of Selectmen and Sturbridge Police Department at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, July 29 in the library of Tantasqua Junior High School to discuss that very issue.

The biggest detail that needs to be hashed out, as no party involved is actually opposed to having an officer in place in the school, will be funding.

Tantasqua used to have a resource officer, paid for through a state grant. When that grant expired and the funding ran out, so did the officer's time.

Sturbridge Police Chief Thomas Ford is currently in the process of pursuing another grant, that if awarded, may be used to fund the officer.

Superintendent of the Tantasqua Regional School District Daniel G. Durgin has repeatedly said he is not opposed to having the officer in the school, but is opposed to using school funds to put him or her there.

Durgin has also refuted claims by the Finance Committee that the administration at the school is too small to deal with any potentially dangerous situations. With more than 170 staff members in the building, Durgin said the faculty to student ratio is perfectly normal.

Beyond the parties making the decisions on the issue, the need for a resource officer in the school is not necessarily at the forefront of many other people's minds.

Mike Maher of Sturbridge, who graduated from Tantasqua in 2008, remembers the days when the school had a resource officer.

"I know that when I was there, there was an officer that was walking around," Maher said.

Although he never struck up the social connection with the officer that advocates have said is an added bonus to having an officer in the school at all times, Maher said he did feel safer knowing the officer was in the building.

Other measures though, added to that feeling of safety.

"They had safety drills in case of a lockdown," said Maher, who did acknowledge that while he felt comfortable in school with the officer there, non-presence of one due to budgetary constraints would be understandable.

Ashley Armstrong of Wales was a senior at Tantasqua when this debate among town bodies began.

When asked if she ever felt unsafe or in danger while at school, Armstrong said, "No, never."

"I don't think a police officer's going to change [behavior] much," Armstrong continued, "Because kids are going to do what they want.

Jeannette Bouchard, who will begin her junior year at Tantasqua this fall, agrees with Armstrong, saying, "It's a school full of good kids."

Bouchard said one reassuring aspect of the school is that many of her teachers have made students aware of their training in defense and restraint maneuvers.

"A lot of teachers know how to handle it," she said of any potential outbursts from students.

"Tantasqua's a good school where you don't need an on-duty police officer at all times," Bouchard continued. "I think they're just blowing everything out of proportion."

News staff writer Christopher Tanguay may be reached at (508) 909-4132, or by e-mail at ctanguay@stonebridgepress.com.

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