Easthampton’s school resource officer reflects on high school troubles

  • Robert Miner, a student at Easthampton high school students holds a sigh in front of the mayors office after walking out of Easthampton High school Thursday morning in protest to what students say is a lack of response from administrators to several racial actions at the school.

  • Easthampton high school students in front of the mayors office after walking out of Easthampton High school Thursday morning in protest to what they say is a lack of response from administrators to several racial actions at the school.

Published: 6/8/2017 11:05:28 PM

EASTHAMPTON — School Resource Officer Alan Schadel has been in the public eye for the last few months, in a time of elevated racial tension at Easthampton High School, and his role at the school has been questioned by parents for a possible conflict of interest.

Now, Schadel, whose son was the victim of a physical assault at the hands of other students at the school, is giving his side of the story. Those students were brought up on charges related to the assault.

“A lot of these parents don’t understand,” Schadel said, adding that the recent events and discussions regarding the high school have been exaggerated by lack of knowledge. 

“How would you want people to react if it was your child — if your child was a victim of an assault?” Schadel said.

But he also said that his son’s comments leading up to the assault were an unacceptable mistake.

“I’m extremely upset with my son,” Schadel said.

Schadel has been on medical leave since January due to an on-duty injury. In his absence, Police Chief Robert Alberti assigned officers Rick Rogalski and Todd Joseph to serve as liaisons to the schools. Due to shift changes, Rogalski is the temporary liaison officer for the remainder of the school year.

The school resource officer position is now open and Alberti said the policies governing the position will be re-evaluated. Alberti said the position is open due to the fact that Schadel is still on leave and there is no date set for when he will be back.

But in the few months that Schadel has been away, there has been a physical assault, two student protests and a rash of allegations regarding harassment and racism from students at the school.

A preventable conflict

Controversy regarding Schadel began in March when his son, a student at EHS, used a racial slur in a private message and a screenshot of that message was shared on social media. The incident led to a physical assault in the school parking lot, where three students allegedly punched Schadel’s son and were arrested on charges of assault and battery.

The next day, some 200 students walked out of school, saying the administration was indifferent to incidents of racism and harassment.

Allegations came to light after the walkout, prompting school officials to call in the Collaborative for Educational Services of Northampton to conduct forums and gather information. The Massachusetts attorney general’s office has also launched an investigation into possible violations of civil rights.

As the school resource officer for the past 12 years, Schadel said he has gotten to know kids throughout their grade school education, being there when they transferred from elementary to middle and to high school.

“If I was around, I don’t think anything would have happened,” Schadel said. “I could’ve intervened.”

When it comes to conflicts of interest, Schadel said, he has always called in other officers to handle the situation, recusing himself.

“Alan did a good job in the schools,” Alberti said.

Schadel said he was not involved in the decision made to arrest the three students who assaulted his son or the initial investigation of the incident.

In court last month, an agreement was reached with 18-year-old Joshua Brown, who allegedly assaulted Schadel’s son, to complete a restorative justice program.

In a statement made shortly after the agreement last month, Schadel said the family worked closely with the Northwestern district attorney’s office to resolve the matter.

“We recognized that all young individuals involved, including my son (the victim of the assault) made mistakes. We feel confident that all those involved, including my son, have learned valuable life lessons,” Schadel wrote. “… we do not want this unfortunate incident to haunt those individuals involved for the rest of their lives, which is why we accepted the plea agreement.”

Weighing a return

Schadel said he hasn’t decided whether he will pursue the school resource officer position once he has recovered and is back to work. When the time comes to make a decision, Schadel said, he will as himself the question: “Is my presence going to be a distraction, or is it going to beneficial?”

Assignment of a school resource officer is done by the chief of police in consultation with the superintendent. Alberti said the school resource officer’s responsibilities are evenly divided between the elementary, middle and high school. He said the position is solely funded by the department.

Over the summer, policies will be discussed, and possibly revised. A school resource officer will be appointed by fall for the start of school.

“The plan is to review the memorandum of understanding with the Policy Subcommittee and revise it as needed,” Superintendent Nancy Follansbee said.

School Committee Policy Subcommittee member Peter Gunn said the subcommittee routinely reviews policies. He said the current memorandum was established a number of years ago under former mayor Michael Tautznik, former police chief Bruce McMahon and former superintendent Deborah Carter. Now the current officials will give it a fresh look.

Even if a new school resource officer is appointed, Alberti said, all beats at the department will be reopened when Schadel comes back to work.

While the superintendent will be involved in the appointment of a school resource officer, Follansbee said, “It’s Chief Alberti’s decision, ultimately.”

Caitlin Ashworth can be reached at cashworth@gazettenet.com.

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