And now, the drama: Tomorrow morning at 10 a.m., I'll be sitting in a rather high-on-the-totem-pole school official's office listening to him backpedal on what he said for my big story from last week. In my three years of free-lancing, I've never had this happen, so this ought to be a treat. My guess? He had his ass handed to him by certain parties that I'm loathe to mention by name.
According to a Nov. 16 police report, a male student threw an object to a friend, Highland Police Chief Pete Hojnicki said. The school resource officer, Detective. Sgt. Tim Towasnicki, asked the student what he had thrown, and he denied throwing anything. Towasnicki asked him again what he had thrown, and the student, who is a minor, allegedly swore at him.
Highland High School Principal Jim Conway and Assistant Principal Michael Urban were in other parts of the building at the time.
Towasnicki escorted the student to a room, where he was placed in handcuffs and arrested for disorderly conduct.
Hojnicki said Towasnicki was doing his job as he saw fit. But some school administrators are concerned that the punishment didn’t fit the crime.
“There’s a difference of opinion as to how this should’ve been handled,” said Superintendent Renner Ventling, a former Highland High School principal. “If it were a teacher or principal, we certainly wouldn’t have tolerated the behavior, and the student would’ve received one or two days of out-of-school suspension. But (arresting the student) was not normal.
“If there was some physical attempt at the officer, that’s one thing, but to my knowledge, there wasn’t. My issue is, we need to further clarify what the SRO can and can’t do,” Ventling said.
The job description for the school resource officer says Towasnicki’s primary duties will be “preventative, proactive intervention, but will follow standard lawful procedures when necessary.”
It also requires that the officer “use sound judgment before making an arrest. If arrests are made, information concerning the incident will be shared with the building principal and remain strictly confidential.”
School Town of Highland attorney Joe Curosh declined to comment on the matter, other than to say officials are looking into the incident.
Other area administrators appreciated Ventling’s concerns, although they defended the school resource officer’s position as a law-enforcement officer. Rocky Killion, assistant superintendent for the Lake Central School Corp., said at one point, the Lake Central school had both a retired police officer as its head of security as well as a school resource officer, but cuts in grant money forced them to eliminate the second position.
“I do believe an SRO is a deterrent,” Killion said. “You never know what a student is planning or how someone will react to a situation, and having the SRO is helpful in the right circumstance.”
He admitted there are arguments pro and con for having a school resource officer, but the bottom line is that the schools must remain safe.
Linda Einsele, Griffith High School principal, said its school resource officer, Sgt. Marlene Starcevich, follows police procedures while in school buildings and has the right to implement them in an official capacity.
But when it comes down to administering routine discipline, such as when a student is swearing at a teacher or administrator, the school handles the issue.
“One goal for our resource officer is to also promote and build good relations with the students,” Einsele said. “But as far as discipline, she’s used for more serious offenses.”