Education Law Social Justice Success of deputy presence in schools unsure By The New Political Posted on November 6, 2013 12 min read 0 0 505 It has been over a week since Athens County Sheriff Patrick Kelly announced his plan to have deputies randomly appear in Athens County schools. In light of criticisms from an Ohio University professor, The New Political decided to check on the program’s progress. Lisa Harrison, an OU middle childhood education professor, voiced several concerns in an email to The New Political, stating that the solution may be too simplistic, labeling it “a bandage approach to larger systemic issues.” “The issue of police presence in schools is not completely simplistic to me,” she said. “Instead of providing supports like mental health workers, school social workers, guidance counselors, deans, and school security that can be instrumental in preventing and supporting children in multiple ways, we are now policing schools.” Harrison stressed the importance of incorporating officers into school life. “I feel that if an officer is assigned, they should be an integrated part of the school and the community around the school through involvement in youth leagues and other youth based organizations,” she said. When asked how often the deputies were visiting the schools, Lieutenant Aaron Maynard responded. “Not every day,” he said. “Throughout the week, at a minimum, each school will be touched on a weekly basis.” There are five total deputies to visit nine schools throughout the week. These deputies include Maynard, three other deputies and DARE Officer Jimmy Childs, who is solely present in the Nelsonville-York school system. “We’ve got nine schools total, all the way down to Coolville, all the way to Albany, to Nelsonville,” Maynard said. Harrison expressed worry that increased officer presence in schools will lead to higher incarceration rates among youth. “We already have a documented school to prison pipeline problem,” she said. By “school to prison pipeline,” Harrison referred to the criticism that schools allow for the criminalization of students for infractions that should be addressed within the schools by allowing officers to patrol them. Thus far into the policy, however, Maynard said that “there’s nothing that an officer had to actively respond to. No problems.” Rebecca Dalton, Nelsonville-York Elementary School principal, said that increased police presence in schools will lead to a more positive view of law enforcement from children. “I think [the policy] is a good idea,” she said. “Whenever you have extra help or extra presence, we welcome it. The other part of this is the fact that having officers in the building is a positive spin on officers.” Dalton is not the only principal happy with the policy change, according to Maynard. “We’ve spoken with every principal in the school district,” he said. “They’re all very happy with the idea that we’re gonna be coming in and doing checks with them more often than not.” Although Harrison said that “just having an officer come in once a day is not going to necessarily create a safe environment,” Maynard said that it could save lives. “The recourse that we’re doing now is going to do nothing but help us,” he said. By understanding the school’s layout better, Maynard said, “I’m going to be a lot more successful in being able to stop the threat quicker than if I haven’t been in the schools.” The threat that Maynard referred to was the hypothetical school shooter. “Active shooter is something you’re hearing in the news all the time,” Maynard said. However, he added that “we haven’t had any active shooters in Athens County. When you look nationally, statistically, it is a very low number.” Harrison also commented on the topic of school shootings in regards to this new policy. “I think with all that has happened recently in schools it would give a sense of safety to various members within the school community,” she said. Harrison also said that, although she is “not totally against having school resource officers,” she does not like the idea of random officer visits. “There should be some kind of introductory meeting with the staff and students before sending someone in,” she said. “Also, parents need to be included in this discussion.” Although no such meeting was held, Dalton was notified immediately. “I heard it through my superintendent,” she said. “He sent out an email that they’re going to be walking through the hallways. I was kept in the loop immediately.” The teachers, however, were not informed as diligently. Preschool teacher Melissa Herzog said that she heard of the new policy because a student of hers is the son of one of the deputies who conducts the visits. “I heard about it the other day because one of my little preschool students, his dad works for the Sheriff’s department,” Herzog said. “He made a special little stop into my room to see his little boy and the kids thought that was great.” Regarding the school informing her of the new policy, Herzog added that “there could have been an email, that maybe I possibly didn’t read. But no, I didn’t really officially know that that would be happening.” When asked if she thought that deputy presence created a safer and better learning environment, Herzog said that the biggest effect it probably has is the acceptance of police officers by children. “I think that probably more than anything, it probably helps the younger children see that law enforcement is a good thing,” she said. “It’s not just when you’re in trouble. They’re there to help.” Herzog added children often already have negatives views of law enforcement. “It’s amazing at such a young age, what they associate police officers and law enforcement with,” Herzog said. “And some of our children, unfortunately, have experienced not positive things at home with law enforcement.” Herzog said that she thinks the new policy “helps erase some of that negativity” and fosters the idea of “don’t run from [the police], go to them if you need something.” Dalton also said that police presence alters the the perception that children have of police officers. “It’s not just protection, but it’s nice for the kids to see officers in a positive way,” she said. Whether the policy is and/or will be successful in creating a safer and better learning environment or not, Harrison agrees that one is important. She cited Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. “Safety is definitely an instrumental part of providing a supportive and effective learning environment,” she said. “According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, outside of physiological needs which are the physical requirements for human survival like food, water, air; safety is the next important thing.” The program is planned to remain in place throughout the school year.