Appoquinimink School District received funding from the December referendum to put constables in their elementary schools.
Increasing security in schools has become common practice across the country and Appoquinimink district officials are looking to improve theirs.
As part of the referendum that passed in December, the Appoquinimink School District received security funding to hire constables that will be placed in the elementary schools.
Constables have a different role in every state, but in Delaware they are defined as “peace officers.” According to the Delaware Code, the Board of Examiners appoints constables as it deems necessary “to preserve the peace and good order of the state.”
Tom Poehlmann, Appoquinimink director of safety, security and operations, said constables carry weapons and have the same powers as police officers — they can detain people and can carry a weapon — but they can’t arrest anyone.
Poehlmann presented a draft of the policy for the use of constables at the Jan. 14 board meeting and will be back at the February meeting with a more formal policy update.
“We will utilize school constables as officers of the law to act in our schools as an integral part of security from outside factors, to actively engage our students in making good choices and to support schools in maintaining a caring, nurturing and safe environment,” the policy draft said.
Even though they are law enforcement personnel, Appoquinimink Superintendent Matt Burrows said they are district employees, so the district would have complete authority over who will be in the schools. They can find someone who best fits the different schools, unlike state police that is picked by the Delaware State Police.
“We are really looking for a person who can serve as a semi-counselor, interventionist, mentor,” he said. “But also if there is a situation in one of the buildings, they can serve in the role of law enforcement.”
Poehlmann said it was an important part of their security improvement to have officers who are Appoquinimink employees because it makes communication better across the school district.
“Because everybody is on the same page, it will be a better situation for our kids,” he said. “That's what my vision has always been, and it's why I am excited about the plan of hiring our own people, working with Middletown [police] and continuing to work with the state police.”
Middletown and Appoquinimink high schools already have school resource officers that are state troopers. With the referendum approval, they will implement a combination of state troopers, Middletown officers and constables at all schools.
Burrows said the plan is to put constables in each of the elementary schools and put a lead officer at Middletown High School that will have additional responsibilities, such as maintaining state certifications for the constables.
Why not just hire more police and troopers? Burrows said the cost is less for constables.
“We can almost get two for the price of one,” he said. “It is more economical for the district and taxpayers to add constables.”
It's still important for them to have a relationship with law enforcement, as well, so they will place Middletown officers at Redding Middle School and eventually Everett Meredith Middle School.
Meredith will be torn down in June, and students who would go to the middle school will be moved to the Fairview Campus in Odessa until construction is finished. Middletown police will be added once the students move into the newly constructed middle school.
The plan calls for a four-year rollout for the constables, but district officials haven’t decided which schools will get them first.
Although the price tag is a main reason for employing constables instead of police officers, Poehlmann said he wants people who will interact with the students.
“While it's good to have an officer with a weapon, I need more than just that,” he said. “I need people who are getting to know the kids, working with kids, making connections with the kids.”
Some parents could be concerned with these officers carrying firearms and being in elementary school, but Poehlmann views it as an “insurance policy.”
This is not the first school district in Delaware to use constables. Brandywine, Caesar Rodney, Capital, Colonial and Red Clay have them, Appo public information officer Lilian Miles said. Some implemented them in 2018 after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida that killed 17 people.
Poehlmann said he met with administrators from these districts to evaluate their use of constables.