Cape Henlopen school board considers police partnership

School resource officer would return after three-year absence
Cape Henlopen school board recently discussed bringing back a student resource officer to Cape Henlopen High School. SOURCE FILE
April 26, 2013

Cape Henlopen school board is considering bringing back a student resource officer to improve school safety at Cape High School – a position the school board got rid of in 2010.

"We believe we have a safe school and good school climate, but an SRO would give us a safer school and better school climate," said Cape Henlopen High School Principal Brian Donohue during a presentation to the school board April 11.

Donohue was joined by Sgt. Bernard Miller who suggested the district consider adding two SRO positions, one based at the high school and another to work in the remaining district schools.

"We want to create a relationship," Miller said. "That way if there is an issue, the kids are likely to come to the officer."

The Newtown shooting on Dec. 14 has brought the issue of school safety to the forefront in many school districts including Cape Henlopen.

Brittingham said he supports hiring an SRO to engage with high school and middle school students in a collaborative way. Police in Rehoboth Beach, Lewes and Milton could help out at elementary schools within their jurisdictions to create a sense of community, he said.

"Just having a police car in the parking lot could deter a bad guy from coming over," he said.

However, board member Jen Burton was less confident that would happen.

"I feel personally that if someone sick was going to come in our building, an SRO isn't going to stop that," she said. "They'll figure out where the SRO is in the building and work around that."

Board President Andy Lewis questioned the price tag of hiring an SRO using local funds when budget is tight. The last time the district had an officer in the school, Delaware State Police originally funded the $65,000-a-year position, but by 2009 the full cost rested on the district taxpayers.

"This is a lot of money to have an SRO come in," he said.

School board member Roni Posner said she was not clear why an SRO is needed in the district, although if they did reinstate an SRO, the officer should focus on elementary school children.

"I think the community is already asking where are we spending our resources," she said.

In 2010, the Cape school eliminated the SRO in favor of a dean of students position filled by William Collick. He was initially paid $300 a day for 180 days – $54,000 a year – with no benefits. His current salary is $107,500 with full benefits.

Board Vice President Spencer Brittingham supported the board's decision to eliminate the SRO in 2010 because he said he felt the SRO at the time was arresting too many students.

In 2008, Cape's SRO, Cpl. William Matt, was at the center of a student arrest that resulted in a long court battle and an undisclosed settlement to former student Dane Wooleyhan. Wooleyhan sued the school district after a teacher said he elbowed her, and Matt arrested him for offensive touching.

While Brittingham agrees an SRO is again needed, he said the expense should not lie fully on the school district.

He suggested splitting the cost into thirds paid by the state, district and Department of Education.

"We need help from the state on the financial side to do this," he said. "I think the state of Delaware could help with a grant to make this happen."


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