The Cumberland County Board of Education approved an interlocal agreement for the transfer of funds to reimburse the Cumberland County Sheriff's Department for the first-year costs of implementing a School Resource Officer program in county schools. 

Also approved was a memorandum of understanding between the school system and sheriff's department.

"The only thing left to do is write the check, if that hasn't already been done," Earl Patton, school board attorney, told the board Thursday.

The interlocal agreement allows the school system to transfer the $233,828 approved by the school board July 8, 2013. The funds are to be used by the sheriff's department to hire, equip and train four new deputies, who will take the place of the deputies assigned to the schools during the school year. 

The agreement states the county has no financial obligation, other than receiving the funds from the school system and applying it to the sheriff's department budget. It does not affect the county's maintenance of effort funding for the sheriff's department in following years and does not commit the school system to any future funding. 

The agreement still needs approval of the Cumberland County Commission. Both agreements had been signed by Sheriff Casey Cox and Director of Schools Donald Andrews. 

Dan Schlafer, 9th District representative, said the board should approve the agreements.

Patton said the memorandum of understanding was very close to the last agreement approved; however, changes were made to ensure the SRO is an employee of the sheriff's department and to hold the BOE harmless for any law enforcement activities the SRO may engage in.

David Bowman, 7th District representative, moved to approve the agreements, supported by Don Hassler, 5th District representative. The motion passed with Jim Blalock, 8th District representative, voting no. Blalock said he had not seen the agreement and could not vote on it. 

There are currently four SROs in the county, splitting their time between eight schools. During summer months, these deputies would work as patrol officers, providing additional law enforcement coverage in the community, Cox has told the board and county commission. 

There has been discussion regarding expanding the program to provide a full-time officer in each school, but no funds have been budgeted for that at this time. The county is expected to discuss how to fund the ongoing costs of the program in future budgets, as the school system funding is only for one year.

Patton also updated the board on pending litigation involving the board. 

The Hoskins case, which involves claims a second-grade student was handcuffed while attending the Phoenix School, is scheduled for trial in January. Patton said a motion for summary judgement for the school system's involvement in the case had been filed and he expected a decision prior to the trial date. 

"The board of education is just one defendant in the lawsuit and is asking to be dismissed," Patton explained. 

The suit was filed in 2013 and named the Cumberland County Board of Education; Director of Schools Aarona VanWinkle; Keena Inman, 504 coordinator for school system; Eddie Nunley, principal at Phoenix School; Darrell Threet, principal at South Cumberland; Becky Brown, 504 coordinator for South Cumberland; and School Resource Officer John Tollett. The suit referenced an incident from March 2012. It seeks not more than $500,000 in damages and not more than $500,000 in punitive damages.

Patton said the Howe suit, involving a parent arrested during an incident at student pick-up at South Cumberland in November 2013, was in the early stages. 

Patton said there had been some fallout from the lawsuits, specifically with individuals asserting what they believe to be their rights while on school property.

"The idea that our public schools are public spaces and anybody from the public is allowed to do whatever they would like as far as going into the school accompanying the student," Patton said.

Some schools have allowed parents to walk students, especially young students. However, after a reasonable amount of time, they ask parents refrain from doing that.

Others do not allow parents to enter the building with their children of a morning due to safety concerns.

"You can't have a building full of adults that you don't know who they are," Patton said. 

School policy requires all visitors to sign in with the front office and receive a visitor badge. Their reason for visiting the school is noted and the time in and out recorded. Exceptions are special events, open houses and athletic events. Principals can also exclude persons from the premises who are disrupting the educational environment of the schools.

There have been incidents, Patton said, principals have considered contacting law enforcement in the case of individuals on school grounds in violation of that policy. Patton has sent letters asking individuals to refrain from this behavior in the future and has considered filing a civil lawsuit for a restraining order. However, those are expensive and automatically appealable to circuit court.

"It's obviously a rare occasion, but we will continue to work with principals as situations arise," Patton said.

Stone said, "I had the opportunity to volunteer at my kids' school, and even Mr. School Board Member had to sign in as a visitor and get a visitor badge."

 

 

 

 

Heather Mullinix is assistant editor of the Crossville Chronicle. She covers schools and education in Cumberland County. She may be reached at hmullinix@crossville-chronicle.com.

Assistant editor of the Crossville Chronicle.