Two notable items were discussed at Tuesday night’s board of education meeting at Islip Middle School. Dr. Ellen Semel, the district superintendent, and several members of the board made statements in regard to the roles of school resource officers as well as accounting for the district’s student body and students who are yet to reach school age.
The roles of SROs defined
The school district has entered into two memoranda of understanding regarding school resource officers present at schools. Although SROs have been present at all schools within the district, recent discussions among superintendents across Suffolk County have unanimously agreed that legal documentation to clarify the roles and responsibilities of SROs was in order.
The main point of the agreement clearly defines the roles of SROs in terms of discipline.
“When you come on our premises, you have no authority in terms of discipline. That belongs to the domain of administration and the building principal,” Semel said.
“Some of you may have seen graphic videos in schools where kids are being tossed out of classrooms, and that has happened with security people in schools across the country. We wanted to make sure that is not happening in any of our Long Island schools,” Semel said, adding that Nassau County and neighboring school districts have entered into similar agreements. “Multiple law firms have been involved in creating these, including our own law firm.”
One memorandum addressed the relationship between the district and the Suffolk County Police Department. The other addressed the relationship between the district and a private consulting company, Covert Investigations Inc.
“Each one of these agreements delineate the roles and responsibilities,” Semel said. “SCPD provides school districts with school resource officers, commonly known as SROs. They come to our schools when we have questions about legal matters, security, give us information, do presentations, and actually walk around our halls.”
Semel provided examples of how SROs and SCPD have been helpful to the district, including drug issues that are mainly prevalent at Islip High School, situations that involve weapons and/or the potential harm of one’s self or other students or staff, students’ inappropriate use of social media, vaping, and absentee/truancy issues.
The meeting itself was attended lightly by the public. During the public comment portion, Denise Nash, president of the high school PTSA, suggested that public notice of the meeting, considering the topic at hand, should have been disseminated in more public forums, aside from a notice posted in the Islip Bulletin.
Accruing census data
In reference to a recent state board of education conference, Islip BOE member Matthew Clareen said that 2020 census information was discussed at length and that the conference was attended by many BOE members and school administrations across Long Island.
Clareen pointed out the mentioning of decreased enrollment in the county since the 2010 census, an indication that numbers are down by nearly 10 percent. He referenced a presentation given by Rebecca Sanin of the Health and Welfare Council of Long Island, adding that he had heard the presentation before, but noted the gravity of the presentation on this stage.
“[Sanin] had really echoed the importance of school districts getting involved with the need within the census work and the effects, both positive and negative, that the district could experience when it comes to funding on a federal level and representation on the federal level,” Clareen said. “[There are] different things that we can do as a district to promote the census and to ensure Long Island gets a fair a count, especially Islip, on the census.”
Semel added to Clareen’s testimony on the matter, considering that the census is gathered every 10 years.
“Ten years ago, we were terribly undercounted,” Semel said. “We lost two representatives 10 years ago, and we lost a part of our voice. I want to get them back. I do think we are undercounted. The research has shown us that the most undercounted group are children who have not started school yet. For some reason, parents forget to appoint them. They think that the government is only interested in school-aged children. That is not the case.
“We need to get the word out because it is about getting points, and we need our voice heard. We have talked about our funding and the struggles we have had. This would help us with that. With your permission, I would like to investigate that with IT and our tech resources and have those things available at our public forums, and we have a lot of them.”
Semel said that she would report back to the board and the public regarding the feasibility of such at the next board meeting, which is slated for Feb. 25.
“Our representation is based on the census—how many people live here. If we underreport, we don’t have the same representation. It is based directly on your population. I want to make our population reported correctly. Some of our funding is based on income wealth and property wealth. Because we are on the South Shore, we happen to be in this magnificent community that has beachfront property. It skews [what we represent.] Those are million-dollar homes right on the water, but the [majority] of our people do not live there. It makes it look like there are not a lot of people here and that they are rich, and that is not the case. I want to get a really good snapshot of what we are... an accurate representation,” said Semel.
She continued on to discuss the access for those within the district to submitting census information for their families.
“I wanted to talk about exploring the possibility of using our school district as a place for folks to fill out their census information,” Semel said. “Some folks have availability to the internet, and we do in all our buildings. In the spring when it opens up, we can, I believe, have some available stations, for example, in the lobby of the high school for the concert where folks can take care of their census information here and now.”
Semel mentioned that an upcoming art show would be a perfect example of a public forum in which access could be provided within the school.