By Heather Mullinix
The Cumberland County Board of Education will consider a resolution urging the Cumberland County Commission to appropriate funding for placing school resource officers in county schools.
Director of Schools Aarona VanWinkle said, "There's some bills that are in the process of being put together, including state funding for school resource officers (SROs) in the schools. It would probably be part of the BEP funding and require some local matching funds."
David Bowman, 7th District representative, said a rough estimate of the first-year cost to provide SRO personnel in eight county schools would be $450,000 in order to train and equip new officers. SROs are experienced officers with special certification to work in schools and Bowman said new officers would likely be hired and trained to take over those experienced deputies' duties on patrol.
The city of Crossville provides two SROs for the school system, one at each of the high schools and providing support to Martin Elementary, all of which are inside the city limits.
Gordon Davis, 5th District representative, said, "You can't place a price on the life of a child."
VanWinkle said she was in favor of an SRO program being coordinated through the Cumberland County Sheriff's Department.
"We need to leave the responsibility of keeping our children and employees safe to the people who know what to do in that type of situation," VanWinkle said.
She added any local funding for SROs in schools needed to be in addition to current educational funding, as she felt cuts to the current education funding would jeopardize the educational program.
Lawmakers have also discussed the possibility of allowing teachers or school personnel who have special training to be armed on school grounds.
"I don't think that would work," said Davis.
Tim Claflin, school safety coordinator, agreed. He added that law enforcement officers have specialized training in incidents involving an active shooter while teachers do not.
"When law enforcement shows up, they don't know all the teachers. They see a gun, it's a quick decision and they might take a teacher down," Claflin said.
VanWinkle thanked board members for supporting her recommendation several years ago to hire a school safety coordinator.
"My brain doesn't think like his," VanWinkle said of Claflin, adding his law enforcement experience was a valuable asset to the school system in developing emergency action plans.
The school system's emergency plan, developed in cooperation with local law enforcement, fire personnel and emergency services, covers a variety of emergency situations from threatening weather to possible violence. Schools conduct regular lockdown drills to practice what to do should someone threaten the safety of students and teachers, just like they hold regular fire drills.
"The teachers are prepared," Claflin said. "They know what to do, and even the substitutes know what to do."
The plans detail who is in charge of what during an emergency until law enforcement arrives to take command.
The schools also hold an annual inservice with the Cumberland County Sheriff's Department. Bowman said that officers try to take part in lockdown drills when possible, but lack of manpower was sometimes an issue.
Schools have also used some of their site-based capital outlay money to add security measures, such as secured entrances, to each school.
A parent in attendance at the meeting asked how parents could assist the schools. Claflin said in years past, parents had taken a patrol duty upon themselves at one school in the county. The parents scheduled someone to patrol the grounds, unarmed, and monitor building entrances. Volunteers had to have a background check, at his or her cost.