Op-Ed Piece in today’s Republican-American Reply

School safety plan ignored
By Jeffrey R. Parkin

Absent from the March 3 agenda of the Kent Board of Education meeting was a discussion of the FASTER Saves Lives program. As a member of the Kent Board of Selectmen, I presented the program in January. At the February meeting, the board moved to request that the Board of Education “evaluate” the FASTER program. The next day, I submitted to Board of Education Chairman Paul Cortese, via U.S. mail, a package containing background information, a DVD with video descriptions of the program, and the formal request for this subject to be put on the March 3 agenda.

The published agenda for the March 3 meeting of the Board of Education listed item 3b as “written communications.” Though my written communication to Mr. Cortese (and hence to the board) clearly was received in a timely manner, Mr. Cortese did not present the FASTER evaluation as part of the written communications nor as a separate agenda item as requested. There is no public record of any action by the Board of Education indicating a refusal to place this on the agenda. To emphasize, the requested agenda item was to evaluate the program in the interest of school safety.

The FASTER program was presented strictly in the interest of school safety. The program includes a trauma-response component and a component to train staff volunteers to have armed defense available at the school. It is not a one-size-fits-all concept. Some or all of the aspects could be evaluated and adopted if desired, or a volunteer could be dispatched to assess the program at the training facility with no commitment to participate. That, to me, is the intention of the original plan to evaluate the program. There was no effort to push the program or suggest this is the only or best option to enhance school safety.

Some of the reaction to the FASTER program has been nearly hysterical, prompted in part by inflammatory headlines that emphasized guns, while barely acknowledging the trauma response and the sincere concern about school safety. Mr. Cortese has been quoted as having “condemned” the Board of Selectmen for sending the proposal to the Board of Education and has stated “our kids are completely safe.”

The decision of whether such a program is right for Kent should be based on a reasoned discussion by the board and the public, not summarily rejected without official board action. Omission of this agenda item without publicly verified action of the board indicates an unwillingness to accept any outside ideas.

According to news reports, Mr. Cortese has refused to answer how the board could have decided to omit this agenda item without board action.

The school board should review the inconsistency and arbitrariness of that position, and place this matter on the April meeting’s agenda.

Jeffrey R. Parkin of Kent is a member of the Board of Selectmen.