A Case for School Resource Officers in Lincoln County Schools
A Blog by Superintendent Bill Heath 7/11/18
On any given day during the school year, approximately 12% of the citizens of Lincoln County can be found within the walls of Lincoln County Schools. These citizens of Lincoln County, mostly children, and their parents deserve to know they are safe and are being provided the protection needed to keep them safe and secure while they are concentrating on learning.
Unfortunately, it often takes a tragic event to make everyone take a closer look at the reality of their own situation and come to the realization that more can be done to help prevent the same type of tragedy from happening to us or our loved ones. Just such a tragic event occurred on Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2018 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida when a 19 year old former student slaughtered seventeen (17) unsuspecting students and adults while wounding countless others. In fact, during a four month period (Jan 22 - May 25) of time in the spring semester of the most recent school year, the following tragic events occurred on K-12 school campuses in our nation:
- Jan 22- a 15 year old student was shot in a high school in Italy, TX
- Jan 23- sixteen (16) people wounded and two (2) killed at Marshall County High School in Benton, KY
- Jan 31- a shooting occurred in the parking lot of Lincoln High in Philadelphia
- Feb 1- four (4) shot and wounded in a middle school in Los Angeles
- Feb 5- a student is shot at Oxon Hill High School in Maryland
- Feb 9- a student is shot at Pearl-Cohn High School in Nashville
- Feb 14- seventeen (17) killed and more wounded at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL
- Mar 7- a student is killed and another wounded at Huffman High School in Birmingham
- Mar 13- a student shot and injured at Seaside High School in Seaside, CA
- Mar 20- two (2) students shot, killing one (1) in Lexington Park, MD. The shooter was taken out by the School Resource Officer (SRO)
- Apr 12- a student is shot at South Middle School in Raytown, MO
- Apr 20- a student is shot at Forest High School in Ocala, FL
- May 11- one (1) shot and injured at Highland High school in Palmdale, CA
- May 18- ten (10) students killed and many wounded by a shooter at Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, TX
- May 25- two (2) students injured by a shooter at West Middle School in Noblesville, IN
This list of school shootings, averaging more than one (1) per week forces us to look at what we currently do, what we can and what we should be doing in the name of safety and security for our children. Shortly after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting in February, we pulled Lincoln County Schools stakeholders together and went through a strategic process to address the issue at the highest level possible. The process included:
- Reviewing and revising our emergency plans and procedures as we do annually
- Reviewing each school’s floor plan and security issues to inform planning
- Bringing stakeholders together through multiple avenues from formal meetings to “Coffee with the Director” to surveys to review concerns and brainstorm for planning and delivering additional and enhanced safety and security measures. The stakeholder groups involved representatives which included parents, students, administrators, teachers, board of education, county executive, county commissioners, city government, sheriff’s department, city police, fire department, Tennessee Highway Patrol, Emergency Management and E911, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, fire marshal’s office, and others. One of the meetings included approximately forty-five (45) attendees.
- Holding an open meeting in a Board of Education work session to hear feedback and recommendations
Through the described process that included multiple brainstorming and prioritizing sessions, a list of action steps emerged. These action steps in priority order are:
- School Resource Officers (SRO)- by an overwhelming majority, placing an armed, trained law enforcement officer in each school is priority number one. This is a recurring expense plus an additional one-time expense to equip the officers.
- Secure all entrances and access points to schools, beginning with main entrances and working to all entrances and access points. The total cost of this can only be estimated at this time since many buildings would require architectural analysis and project bidding to tie down a firm cost. Due to the time in which our schools were constructed, they do not include a level of security now needed to provide safety and security to our children, the cost would easily surpass one or two million dollars.
- Increase training and enhance drills to train our adults and children regarding emergency plans and actions.
- Enhance video and audio communications with law enforcement
- Implement a tip-line for students and adults to anonymously provide tips of potential issues
Items 3-5 listed above are currently being implemented by Lincoln County Schools. However, the top two (2) priorities cannot be completed with the current funding provided to the school system. Lincoln County Schools has strategically planned to address the main entrances at our schools over the next few years. However, the sense of urgency along with the need to address all entrances means the plans need to be expedited and include all access points. Given the extreme costs, this can only be expedited at a minimal level. As for putting a School Resource Officer (SRO) in every school, this cannot be accomplished within the current school system budget without losing programming for student learning. With the protection of the citizens of Lincoln County being a County responsibility, the Lincoln County Board of Education asked, via resolution, for the County Government to fund an officer for each school. The Lincoln County Commission is currently in the process of considering the request.
Through discussions and listening to the people of Lincoln County, it seems that most agree with the recommended measures needed to protect our children. It also appears that there is not an agreement regarding how to fund the needed measures. Several funding options have been discussed or even recommended, including the following:
- Board of Education funding- the Board of Education cannot raise revenue, thus any funding of these security measures would mean a reduction in programming and having to move the money from teaching and learning.
- State appropriated revenue- the Tennessee Legislature has approved two revenue streams to help local governments with the issues. One is a non-recurring sum of money of approximately one-hundred thousand (100,000) dollars and a new recurring appropriation of approximately eighteen thousand (18,000) dollars. The non-recurring dollars are being planned to be used to assist with securing the entrances and access points. Of course this will only put a dent in the total estimated amount to secure entrances and access points, one to two million dollars. The recurring dollars will pay for an annual tip-line and possibly help address the mental health needs of our students.
- Available Grants- Most school systems are doing exactly what is being recommended, adding SRO’s and securing entrances and access points. The available grants are limited and will be very competitive and difficult to attain. Therefore, we cannot rely on these grants but will continue to apply for available grants in which we qualify.
- Additional Federal Revenue- any that becomes available will be applied for via our School Safety Office. However, no new secured funds have been made available at this time.
- Lincoln County Commission- the request from the Board of Education was made to the County Government since they are the funding body that is responsible for providing safety and security to Lincoln County citizens.
In closing, every time I visit the courthouse I must go through metal detectors and am greeted by armed and trained law enforcement personnel. As a visitor at the Courthouse, I feel very safe at all times. As Director of Schools it is my wish that we find a way to protect our children, our youngest citizens, at the same level.
Dr. Bill Heath