The Oregon School Board on Monday opposed a school resource officer contract proposed by the village, with the board in full opposition to a provision that would allow the police officer to store an AR-15 rifle inside the high school.
Last week, the Oregon Village Board backed a contract to provide a school resource officer, or SRO, to the Oregon School District for the fast-approaching school year, looking to simplify an agreement that had been in place in previous years.
Despite both sides wanting to continue the SRO program, the disagreement over how a contract should look likely means there will not be an officer in place for the start of the school year on Tuesday as the previous contract has expired.
The village’s two-page proposal would also allow the SRO to be “equipped by the village in such a manner as directed by the village police chief.”
Police Chief Brian Uhl has said he would like the officer to be able to safely secure an AR-15 rifle inside the SRO’s office at Oregon High School, likely within a gun safe.
Uhl said having the firearm inside the school — as opposed to stored inside the SRO’s squad car as it has been in the past — would allow the officer to be better equipped in the case of an active shooter.
But School Board members viewed the idea as impractical and said it would negatively impact the environment at the high school.
Board member Tim LeBrun said he’s “not an anti-gun person” and supports local law enforcement, but said he could not find any research indicating an officer having an assault-style rifle inside school is an effective way to respond to a shooter.
The Oregon School District’s SRO, who is allowed to carry a handgun, provides services throughout the district but mainly works at the high school.
Uhl called it unfortunate that the School Board meeting was “only about the rifle as there are many more issues that need to be resolved.”
He did not elaborate on outstanding issues, saying “those issues are best kept between parties for now so we can hopefully move to a quick resolution.”
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Uhl said even without an agreement in place, officers will still patrol around schools, especially during the morning and afternoon.
Village Board president Jeanne Carpenter said she understands the School Board’s opposition to having a rifle inside the high school, adding “in my mind, that’s now a dead issue” going forward with negotiations.
At the Madison School District, where an SRO is stationed at each of the four main high schools, the officers’ AR-15 rifles are stored in squad cars at assigned parking spaces, said Joe Balles, the safety and security coordinator for the district.
He said the conversation of storing the rifles inside Madison high schools has not come up and the district is not looking at that option.
The village’s proposal, which would have the agreement expire Dec. 30, calls for a joint village and school district committee to be formed to further discuss the SRO program.
Carpenter said the proposal was not designed to be a long-term deal, but rather a stopgap measure to get an officer in the schools by the start of the school year and give the two sides a few months to update the agreement.
But the school district’s legal counsel, Jina Jonen, called the proposal a “pretty bare bones agreement” that deviates from SRO guidelines put out by the Department of Public Instruction and state Department of Justice and were the basis of previous contracts.
Jonen said she has several concerns with the village’s proposal, including no mention about the relationship-building component of the SRO program and not designating the SRO as a school official, which allows them to view otherwise private student information.
The School Board directed district administration to continue negotiations on a new SRO contract.
Village administrator Mike Gracz said the village wants to talk about the overall SRO program, how well it is working, and where improvements could be made. He said the plan is to hold a meeting with school and village officials in September after the school year starts.