Bethlehem Press

Thursday, May 28, 2020
press photo by chris haringConcerned district parents, residents fill the Saucon Valley Audion as they wait for the Board meeting to start. press photo by chris haringConcerned district parents, residents fill the Saucon Valley Audion as they wait for the Board meeting to start.

Residents keep pressure on for officer

Tuesday, March 3, 2020 by CHris Haring Special to the Bethlehem Press in Local News

For the third meeting in a row, Saucon Valley School District parents and residents, led by Jennifer Schmell, descended upon the Feb. 11 board meeting to present their displeasure with the board’s response, or in some people’s opinions, lack thereof, to their request for increased student security and safety, namely by way of obtaining a School Resource Officer (SRO).

Before the floor was opened to residents, however, the board did take the time to conduct other business, including two somewhat contentious votes. With both Board President Dr. Shamim Pakzad and Vice President Susan Baxter absent, member Michael Karabin took charge of running the meeting. The first agenda item up for approval was the 2020-21 high school program of studies, with the only vote against coming from Bryan Eichfeld, on the basis that it included a course of gender studies. He said he, “agrees with a lot of things that are done with this program, but will be voting against it because [I] still will not support a program that has gender studies in the curriculum.”

The second issue up for a vote was a charter for the Lehigh Valley Academy Regional Charter School for a five-year period effective July 1, 2020 through June 30, 2025. Sandra Miller was the only vote against, citing various reasons, saying, “I don’t believe that an $80 million school is necessary, and am very concerned about the cost. I think the concerns that the Bethlehem School District raised are valid… I’m also concerned with the concept that a charter school is supposed to be providing a new and different opportunity, when we have one of the finest high schools in the Lehigh Valley.”

Fireworks again flew during the latter half of the meeting, as Schmell offered another presentation, this time with a visual aid in the form of a packet distributed to the board, administration and other attendees, highlighting what she characterized as a gradual increase in serious behavioral disruptions and incidents in the district. In her view, “all of these incidences could be… mitigated by the presence of an SRO.” She provided statistics dating back to 2015 of reported incidents in the district and their disciplinary outcomes, as well as anecdotal evidence. One of her biggest concerns was what was happening with the students who were causing some of the more serious incidents, showing her dismay at the lack of student reassignments and expulsions over the last five years.

Angela McFetridge, another district resident, provided FBI research and resources that, in her opinion, supported the need for an SRO on campus. This seemed to be in response to Karabin’s assertion at the prior meeting that FBI research he compiled did not, in fact, explicitly show a positive impact on student safety outcomes by the presence of an SRO. She presented statistics highlighting average law enforcement response times, both locally and on a national level, attempting to illustrate the “gap” that might be filled by having an officer on school grounds. “For a district as wealthy as Saucon Valley, it is completely irresponsible to not consider having their own SRO officers,” she said. Two other district residents also spoke in support of this initiative.