DURHAM — A state trooper assigned to the regional school district as a school resource officer responded to 34 school-related incidents and made three student arrests so far this school year.
Mark Hesseltine presented an overview to the Board of Education during a board meeting earlier this month, The incidents include underage drinking, sexting, suspicious packages or persons, physical altercations and damage to school property.
The three arrests were all related to the same case, he said. Hesseltine did not provide details on the arrests.
Hesseltine said usually tries to steer students to the Juvenile Review Board, but in this case, “the parents were adamant, they wanted to press charges, and whether I were at the school or not there would have been three arrests.”
Two other incidents were referred to the Juvenile Review Board, a board of Durham and Middlefield community members.
Although the number of disciplinary incidents at the high school this year is on par with previous years, Coginchaug Regional High School Principal Brian Falcone said Hesseltine’s impact has been more evident in how administrators can respond to the incidents.
“For administration in all the buildings across the district, the key is consistency,” Falcone said during the Feb. 13 meeting. “Having a consistent person we can turn to, that we have access to within the troop, that knows our community, that knows our kids, that they know us.”
There has been a decrease in vaping on school grounds and safer driving on campus.
“We do have a vaping issue in our high school, as all high schools do, and that number has decreased significantly with (Hesseltine’s) presence in and out of (the boy’s) bathrooms,” Falcone said. “So it's very effective there.”
Overall, students and administrators say they've noticed positive impacts from having Hesseltine available in the district. Hesseltine was hired by the Board of Education for the start of the school year and is the district’s first school resource officer.
Falcone said having an officer in the school is a dramatic change from the 20-minute wait time for an officer from Troop F to make the trip from the state police barracks in Westbrook.
Timothy Arcari, a senior at Coginchaug Regional High School, said he’s noticed Hesseltine has made a big impact in terms of parking lot safety.
Hesseltine said he has issued four warnings for driving citations this year, three to students and one to a parent.
Senior Emily Dell’Orfano said she’s noticed a “palpable change in morale” since the SRO started working.
“Our morale as a school and as a community has been so much more happy, and we've felt so much more connected and just safe,” Dell’Orfano said. “Students are focusing on their school instead of their safety, which is so important in our learning environment.”
Hesseltine said he's enjoyed getting to know the students and working with staff.
“More and more, the students are stopping by my office just to say hello and a few occasions where students have stopped in just for help,” Hesseltine said.
Hesseltine is planning several presentations on safe driving and making smart choices for the spring. He is also working to set up a chess club at Strong School.