Pennsylvania school board member apologizes for saying armed officers are more likely to shoot students of color

ByKatie Katro KGO logo
Thursday, January 30, 2020
Controversial comments made at Abington School Board Meeting
Despite her apology, controversy continues to swirl around a member of the Abington School Board for comments she made last week about armed officers in schools and who stands a gr

ABINGTON TOWNSHIP, Pennsylvania -- Despite her apology, controversy continues to swirl around a Pennsylvania school board member for comments she made about armed officers in schools and who stands a greater chance of being shot.

Dr. Tamar Klaiman, a member of the Abington Board of School Directors, said officers are much more likely to shoot children of color during a Jan. 21 school board meeting.

"There's a lot of evidence that anybody carrying a firearm in a district building puts kids at risk, particularly students of color," Klaiman said. "We know that the black and brown students are much more likely to be shot by the officer, especially school resource officers, than other students, and I have serious concerns about anybody in the building having firearms, regardless or not of whether they are police," said Klaiman.

Abington Township Police Chief Patrick Molloy said Dr. Klaiman personally called him and apologized for her comments. While he forgives her, he also wants to focus on educating her about her comments, which he said were hurtful.

In the 25 years the police department has had a school resource officer on campus, they have never had to fire their weapon at a student.

"Those statements were hurtful to many of my officers, and frankly to some of their spouses and children, and the whole law enforcement community," said Chief Patrick Molloy.

Klaiman put out a statement on her Facebook page:

"During Tuesday night's school board meeting, an issue came up about which I have strong personal feelings. I am concerned about having firearms in schools, and the disparate impact of disciplinary actions on students of color. However, I said something that I deeply regret and for which I would like to like to apologize. I am proud of the relationship between the Abington School District and the Abington Police Department in our community. I am also aware that Abington is a leader in community policing and building bridges. What I said was offensive, and I am sorry. Because our community is so great, we often do not think of the impact that things happening outside of our town have on people in our community. There are people who may feel unsafe around police, not because of anything the Abington Police Department or officers have done, but because of how the world is and treats some people based on the color of their skin."

Chief Molloy said the purpose of having an armed school resource officer is not only to respond when seconds matter, but also to build community relations.

"There are instances and the data supports some of this stuff that they were suggesting about African American males being more likely to be shot by police," said Chief Molloy, "but saying those statements without any data, without any context, does not lend itself to a fruitful exchange of ideas that will bring us together."

Some parents said they believe school resource officers should not be armed.

"Having their presence should be safety enough, but them having it actually on them, I don't think is a good idea," parent Mary Marion said.

Other parents are calling for Klaiman's resignation.

"That's not how we feel, and no I do not believe she should be in the seat that she has right now, and I believe she should be stepping down," said Linda Barila, another Abington parent.

The school district's superintendent sent our sister station WPVI-TV this statement:

"For decades, Abington School District and the Abington Township Police Department have worked together to ensure a safe and positive learning environment for students and staff. We are fortunate to have the commitment of our Abington Township Police Department in fostering positive relationships with students early on. This includes officers coming into our elementary schools to read to students and teach them about community policing, administering our DARE curriculum and other health- and safety-based instruction from K-12, training staff in emergency planning and preparedness, and serving as School Resource Officers (SROs) in our secondary buildings. These SROs, who have been in our schools for more than 25 years-one in each the junior and senior high-are our first line of defense in the event of a school emergency, but they also assist with problem-solving, social justice and providing a positive outlet to whom students can turn when needed. Abington School District and the Abington Township Police Department have had ongoing, meaningful discussions over the years, with a desire for positive cooperation, and we intend to continue those conversations. Our administration appreciates our partnership with the Abington Township Police Department, and our goal is to see it continue."

There is a school board meeting set for next Tuesday, Feb. 4, at the Junior High School Little Theater, where community members and leaders are planning to talk about these comments and find a way to move forward.