Of­fi­cials mull plac­ing deputies in ele­men­tary schools

The Covington News - - FRONT PAGE - AM­BER PITTMAN apittman@cov­

When par­ents and res­i­dents in New­ton County heard about the tragic school shoot­ing in New­ton, Conn., one of their first re­ac­tions was to ask if schools needed to be safer.

One of the most di­rect forms of pro­tec­tion is law en­force­ment of­fi­cers in the schools. A sher­iff’s deputy is cur­rently sta­tioned full time in each mid­dle and high school in New­ton County, but given that the Con­necti­cut shoot­ing hap­pened in an ele­men­tary school, lo­cal of­fi­cials are now ex­plor­ing whether deputies are needed in ev­ery school.

The New­ton County School Sys­tem would have to pay an ad­di­tional $786,793 per year to place school re­source of­fi­cers –

spe­cially trained sher­iff’s deputies – in each of the county’s 13 ele­men­tary schools as well as the New­ton County Theme School at Fic­quett and the New­ton Col­lege and Ca­reer Academy, ac­cord­ing to an email from school sys­tem busi­ness man­ager Peggy Bullard.

The school sys­tem cur­rently pays $743,340 for the 14 school re­source of­fi­cers (SROs) that al­ready work in its mid­dle and high schools. Based on those num­bers, each school re­source of­fi­cer costs ap­prox­i­mately $53,095.

There ap­peared to be some con­fu­sion as to whether the cost of the SROs was split be­tween the school sys­tem and the sher­iff’s of­fice, but Dennis Car­pen­ter, deputy su­per­in­ten­dent of op­er­a­tions for schools, said the school sys­tem pays the en­tire cost.

Adding a law en­force­ment pres­ence di­rectly in ele­men­tary schools and the other spe­cialty schools in the county would sig­nif­i­cantly in­crease costs for a school sys­tem that has dealt with bud­get cuts each of the last few years.

“Dur­ing my ten­ure we have not had sub­stan­tive dis­cus­sions re­gard­ing plac­ing SROs at our ele­men­tary schools,” said Mathews in an email sent out to school board mem­bers and other of­fi­cials. “Bud­get re­duc­tions, rather than ad­di­tions, have been the norm. That said, the ad­di­tion of SROs at each of our ele­men­tary schools may be some­thing to really look at in light of the as­sault on lit­tle chil­dren and teach­ers and prin­ci­pal in Con­necti­cut.”

How­ever, in light of the tragedy, the sher­iff’s of­fice is plan­ning to have SROs visit the ele­men­tary schools more reg­u­larly, es­pe­cially in the morn­ings, ac­cord­ing to SRO Lt. Charles Ledford.

Deputy Cort­ney Mor­ri­son, who is in charge of school re­source of­fi­cers, said Satur­day that SROs are at most a few min­utes away from ev­ery ele­men­tary school in the county. In some cases such as New­ton High and Por­terdale Ele­men­tary schools (which are next door to one an­other), an SRO is only sec­onds away.

Mor­ri­son said SROs are trained to know what to do in sit­u­a­tions such as the tragic mass shoot­ing in New­town, Conn., adding that the train­ing sit­u­a­tions are “very stress­ful” so that law en­force­ment knows how to re­act if some­thing does oc­cur.

“You learn to how to as­sess things in a split sec­ond and how to re­act in a sit­u­a­tion like that,” she said.

Mor­ri­son said that SROs are also fa­mil­iar with who typ­i­cally comes in and out of the mid­dle and high schools in the county (where there is at least one SRO at all times), and that if a vis­i­tor comes into the school and does not check in at the of­fice, they are re­trieved by the SRO be­fore they get very far into the school.

Am­ber Pittman /The Cov­ing­ton News

Sher­iff’s Lt. Charles Ledford, a trained school re­source of­fi­cer, watches stu­dents at Cousins Mid­dle School. How­ever, no of­fi­cers are cur­rently sta­tioned in lo­cal ele­men­tary schools, which some be­lieve is an is­sue fol­low­ing the shoot­ing at an el­em­n­tary school in Con­necti­cut.

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