Candace Caluori laughs when she thinks about it.
The more than 70 cameras throughout Toll Gate High School have done more than provide a measure of security.
Kids will tell her they didn’t have an argument with another student that resulted in some pushing around and, in fact, it couldn’t have been them because they were elsewhere in the school. But Caluori, principal of the school with more than 1,000 students, has irrefutable evidence. She’ll play back the video that is time stamped and clearly shows the incident. Even then, some students stick to their story.
That may conjure an image of Big Brother and, indeed, for schools to be secure, the administration and School Resource Officer Bill Castaldi need to know who is coming and leaving the building. But both Castaldi and Caluori say schools should not be prisons, even though following the shooting in Parkland there are heightened concerns over what could happen and how best to make schools safe.
Caluori was asked on the one-month anniversary of the Parkland shooting, when students across the country walked out of schools to stage a 17-minute demonstration – a minute for each of the Parkland victims – whether she thought a single SRO was adequate security. What became apparent in a follow-up interview with Caluori and School Resource Officers Bill Castaldi, who is at Toll Gate, and Nelson Carreiro, scheduled at Winman, is that SROs play a much greater role than an armed police presence at the school.
They play a vital communication link that has been overshadowed by the debate over gun control and whether even teachers should be armed or schools fortified.
When it comes to safety and security, Caluori and the SROs view their actions as proactive rather than reactive. Teacher drills, lockdowns and faculty training long preceded the shootings at Parkland. More training is planned. In addition, the faculty was supportive of students in their demonstration.
“Our students organized their version of it. Even though the nation was being called to do that, our kids were proactive in terms of how they wanted to address it and out of that tragedy formed the ‘Social Coalition Group,’” said Caluori. “Ms. Thompson, one of our teachers, meets with these kids and talks out the whole situation so that it’s not a reactive thing and we work with student leaders. Even though we didn’t quote-unquote ‘sanction the walkout,’ we were proactive in terms of, if it were to happen, these are things we would put in place to make sure everybody felt safe.”
Safety topped the list of concerns for SROs, said Castaldi.
“It wasn’t an effort where we said alright, do it, it was obviously something that made sure it was safe for the kids to get involved in.”
Castaldi makes a distinction between safety and security.
“Safety and security are two different terms,” he said.
“Schools continue to be safe places for students. We’ve got faculty, staff, SROs, support systems, locked doors, cameras. We’ve got all these safety measures there, but the question is: are schools secure?”
“We know schools are a soft target, so doors being propped open, are kids allowing other students in, those are the issues that leave us vulnerable,” he said
Caluori said student concern following Parkland was at a high. At assemblies where “you could hear a pin drop” students were told not to wear hoodies or hats as they couldn’t be recognized, to close doors and not let people in.
There’s more to it.
“We very strongly emphasize the message, ‘You see something, you say something,’” said Caluori.
There’s increased concern over security, and since the Parkland shootings, Caluori said on three or four occasions students have confided they don’t know if it means anything but, ‘I don’t feel comfortable with this.’
“Kids don’t want to be snitches. You tell a kid to talk to us about their peers and it puts them in a bad position,” said Castaldi. To deal with this the school has set up anonymous email systems to vice principals and the SROs. SROs are also monitoring social media.
Carreiro said, “We want to use the term reporting, not snitching. This is a community within a community. You’ve got nurses, mental health professionals, faculty, SROs, administration. It’s reporting, not snitching. We’re trying to change that kind of mindset, culture.”
Caluori sees the strength of the system in relationships.
“Officer Bill is just as much a part of this family as our teachers and staff. That’s important to me as the principal and for the students to be able to approach him. They’ll go to him before us,” she said.
“You’re being a law enforcement officer but also being a counselor,” said Carreiro. “Just yesterday [I was] in a history class talking about the Fourth Amendment. Educating our kids to be citizens out in the world. That’s the educating piece. It could be as simple as, ‘Hey, if you do that as an adult, you’re going to have problems.’ Tell them, ‘you’re smarter than that.’”
As Caluori observes, the SROs also provide a connection to what’s happening outside of the schools that could have an impact on the schools, as well as programs and resources for schools.
“These guys are amazing at pulling in other resources, like outside training. They bring forward things that I would never know, and I consider myself to be pretty savvy,” said Caluori.
All three agree that expanding the SRO program to elementary schools would add a layer of security but, more importantly, build relationships and community starting at an earlier age. Resource officers do visit elementary schools, but unlike the high and junior high schools, officers are not assigned to a specific school.
Carreiro sees the program as reaching beyond students and faculty.
“The resource isn’t just at the schools. We’re the liaisons for the parents for the police department. They can come to us anytime to get a better understanding of their child,” he said. “We can direct that parent to community services, community policing, mental health clinicians. As the liaison, we can gear parents towards the police resources they need.”