Highly unusual North Salem Board of Education meeting turns contentious over School Resource Officer
The North Salem Central School District Board of Education voted Wednesday night to approve the addition of a second School Resource Officer to serve the district's two schools beginning next year. But the vote came amid infighting among board members, a diversion from typical Board procedure and charged language about how the process unfolded.
A vote on whether or not to approve a second SRO was not on the agenda for Wednesday night’s meeting. However, trustee Paul Giamundo forced fellow Board members to publicly indicate their position on the issue when he made the unprecedented move of making a motion for a roll call vote. The vote was approved by a 4-3 majority, with trustees Brian Lange, Jennifer Binnette, Brandy Keenan and Giamundo voting yes. Trustees Deborah D’Agostino, Kurt Guldan and Andrew Brown voted no.
Board president Deb D’Agostino told the North Salem Post that the way the vote happened is “actually against our policies and procedures.” However, she noted that she “allowed Mr. Giamundo a courtesy to take a motion from the floor.”
In making his case for an immediate vote, Giamundo said, “if it were up to me, the Monday after the shooting in Texas we should have had an SRO stationed at PQ on a per diem basis. I cannot imagine anyone would possibly not want to have that extra security.”
Trustee Brandy Keenan loudly bristled at Giamundo’s move, saying, “I don’t appreciate as a parent and a board member being pushed into a public vote. We need to have a very thorough discussion about all of the options and all of the safety.”
Keenan’s feelings were not shared by parent Kathleen Whalen, who in public commentary earlier in the meeting told Board members, “my understanding is that you're waiting to hear from your security committee and I’m here today to ask you to stop waiting. You don’t need to wait on reports to know that two officers can accomplish more than one.”
Whalen told the North Salem Post that, prior to tonight’s meeting, she had sent notes to Superintendent Ken Freeston and Board of Ed president Deb D’Agostino requesting to add the topic of an SRO to the meeting agenda, and was told that the issue would be covered under board reports, a standard part of every board meeting. In her opening statement, D’Agostino told attendees that the Board would not vote on an SRO during this meeting.
In an email sent to the Post earlier this month, D’Agostino said that the Board had received a report from the district security committee at the end of May–a report that was commissioned prior to the Uvalde, Texas massacre–and that the Board was in the process of reviewing the report.
Much of the push to add an SRO was driven by a petition circulating among community members immediately following Uvalde. Parent and retired police officer Nicole Corsi Gould started the petition and has received over 300 signatures to date.
“We value the tremendous impact of our current SRO,” Gould said during public comment. “North Salem doesn’t have to be vulnerable. As a retired police officer and a mother I beg you to do what’s right and protect our children.”
In bringing the matter to a vote, Giamundo said, “If we have the ability to get an SRO, to hold off and say let’s have more discussions about it I think is almost reckless. I don’t think parents are pleased with us hesitating on such an important thing.”
Trustee Brian Langue agreed with Giamundo. “It is very valuable to parents, and something this valuable to parents deserves our thought and discussion,” he said. “Because this means so much to parents, I think it's inappropriate that we don’t even consider putting it to a vote.”
As disagreements among trustees boiled over, D’Agostino intervened, saying, “I’m in charge of this meeting. Temperatures are running high. This motion is in violation of our board’s procedures.” Still, D’Agostino did allow the vote to proceed. After the motion narrowly passed she immediately called to adjourn the meeting before the second public comment period. D’Agostino refused to reopen the meeting despite being reminded that members of the public had not had their opportunity to participate in closing public comment.
“That’s unacceptable,” Lange admonished.
Attendees appeared shocked, and some community members left holding papers containing prepared remarks that they had not had the opportunity to share.
When asked why she adjourned the meeting so abruptly, D’Agostino told the Post, “I adjourned the meeting because we have policies and procedures that people will act accordingly in these meetings and that clearly was not the case. It was not my intention to deny the second public comment.”
Despite the meeting’s dramatic conclusion, several community members in attendance expressed relief and joy–some even tearing up–to see that what they had pushed for had been approved.
“This is huge for the community, for our children,” said Gould. “I’m at a loss for words because I didn’t know this would happen tonight.”
Whalen added, “I am so grateful to Paul Giamundo for listening to parents in the community and recognizing the need for the board to be agile and responsive. By bringing a motion and taking this topic to a vote (when parents themselves were unable to get the item added to the agenda) he showed everyone in the community that he puts the needs of our students first."
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