There have been calls from the Jefferson County community for a School Resource Officer (SRO) and metal detectors at both county high schools and all four middle schools. In a recent public forum in Shepherdstown, students focused on the need for increasing preventative social and mental health services within their school and did not want their school to become akin to a prison lockdown. Beyond “thoughts and prayers,” what are federal and state elected officials doing to provide real resources to make our schools safer? Parents, students, and the Jefferson County community have questions and want answers. A community summit, a community conversation is needed regarding this important issue.
There are school safety protocols and procedures in place at all schools in Jefferson County. Most schools have single-point entry, with video/voice capabilities to initially screen visitors to the school. There is the ability to scan driver’s licenses to run checks against existing databases. But, is that enough?
By all accounts, Jefferson High School has benefitted from having a SRO on campus this school year. A member of the Jefferson County Sheriff Department, he serves not only in support of a safer school environment for students and staff, but has an expanded role in being a mentor, counselor, and educator. This service does not come without cost. Currently, the SRO position is funded by a grant, school board funds, and the Sherriff’s Department. The cost is over $60,000 a year. Doing the math, a SRO at both high schools and four middle schools would come in at some $360,000 each year.
A quick search on the internet puts “moderately priced” walk-through metal detectors at around $4,000 to $5,000, not including manpower costs to operate them. The U.S. Justice Department reports that the initial purchase price of a walk-through detector is “almost insignificant compared with the ongoing personnel costs to operate the equipment in a complete weapon detection program.” Hand-held detection wands are a less costly option, but there are concerns with their effectiveness, including the scanning of students streaming into schools at the start of the school day.
Interestingly, in line with the call from local students, groups representing school counselors, psychologist, school social workers, school resource officers, and secondary school principals have issued “A Framework for Safe and Successful Schools.” Its focus includes increasing access to mental health support for children and youth, including fostering “collaboration among school staff and community-based service providers” to build on existing school initiatives. This should also be a part of a community conversation on school safety.
There are enough questions and concerns to warrant a community conversation on school safety.