High-Five Friday is no more, but a new program is planned for Northampton elementary schools



Published: 05-01-2017 11:06 PM

NORTHAMPTON — More than two months after the cancellation of High-Five Friday rattled Northampton, the school district announced Monday a permanent police liaison to its elementary schools.

The four district elementary schools have lacked a steady law enforcement outreach program since the cancellation of DARE several years ago. The absence was one of the reasons behind the implementation of High-Five Friday — an ill-fated program where police would visit a different school every Friday to high-five students.

Now, the police department has assigned Officer Douglas Dobson as liaison to the district’s elementary schools. He will spend at least one hour per week at each school, according to a joint statement by Superintendent John Provost and Chief Jody Kasper.

“The schedule will be flexible and depend on the needs and wishes of the individual schools,” the statement said. “Officer Dobson will begin meeting with building principals this week to discuss the best ways for him to be involved in each school community.”

Dobson joined the department in 1999 and has studied both physical education and criminal justice. While taking on the new duties, he will remain a full-time patrol officer, according to Kasper.

In March, the police chief and superintendent announced they were eyeing three options to replace High-Five Friday. Establishing a consistent liaison was one of the choices. The others were hosting a community forum to discuss the department’s role in the community and developing recreational activities aimed at “creating opportunities for youth engagement.”

A press release at the time said the district and the department would provide time to seek additional input.

High-Five Friday began in December and school district began fielding concerns from some parents about a lack of consultation before the program was rolled out. Some of the criticism centered around the program not being sensitive enough to children who may have negative impressions of law enforcement.

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Administrators and the department cancelled the program in February, and the news spun into a national story. Critics wondered why parents worried about childrens’ anxieties toward police would seek to thwart a program designed to ease those stresses.

Through the controversy, the police department has maintained it would press on with elementary school outreach.

“The Northampton Police Department and the Northampton Public Schools share a commitment to collaboration and ensuring the safety of all students,” Kasper and Provost said in their statement.

Jack Suntrup can be reached at jsuntrup@gazettenet.com.