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Cumberland County Schools Security Coordinator Bo Magnusson has seen the impact of school resource officers in schools.

“The numbers are only a part of what they do,” Magnusson said, referring to a report on reports, consultations, arrests and meetings from the 2019-’20 school year.

“The most important aspect of this program is that officers are establishing relationships and building trust with students and staff and parents,” Magnusson said. “While they are certainly ready, willing and able to respond to an emergency or threat, the greatest majority of their time is spent on building those relationships.”

A full-time school resource officer is assigned to each Cumberland County school through partnerships with the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office and Crossville Police Department. The officers are certified law enforcement personnel with additional training in working with youth in a school environment. 

According to the report, SROs conducted 4,497 student consultations last school year, with 520 parent consultations and 1,547 faculty consultations. They participated in 128 school meetings and presented information to 95 classrooms. 

The officers also attended or participated in 141 after-hour events, such as ball games or special activities.

Those relationships can be vital in protecting the school, Magnusson noted.

It was the relationships students formed with an SRO at South Cumberland Elementary local leaders credited for uncovering and stopping a possible school shooting plot in the spring of 2019. 

“The SRO program gives that opportunity for that positive impact on kids’ lives,” Magnusson said. “And it builds that trust so that when a student hears something concerning, they will go to the SRO and talk to them.”

As law enforcement officers, they also can take offense or incident reports, with 241 reports this past school year.

Magnusson said officers do not enforce school policies or discipline.

“That is the school’s responsibility,” Magnusson said.

However, the officers can support administrative personnel and, when necessary, they have made arrests. The report says officers issued 92 citations or arrests during the school year. 

There were 77 incidents related to violence, 30 disorderly conduct incidents, 23 drug- or alcohol-related incidents and 14 theft-related incidents. 

The SROs also help with traffic control at the schools, and they worked 1,050 school crossings and accidents. SRO Scott Iles, at North Cumberland Elementary, has suffered injuries while directing traffic on the heavily traveled Hwy. 127 N. 

Iles was seriously injured in January 2019 when he was struck by a 2014 Ford Focus. He was airlifted from the scene and flown to the University of Tennessee Medical Center where he received more than 20 stitches to his head and was treated for a cracked sternum and damage to his knee. 

He was able to return to work after a few weeks of recovery. The students at the school had made him a “Get Well” banner and sent him well-wishes. 

Iles was not seriously injured last fall when he was struck on his shoulder by the mirror of a truck, which failed to stop. 

The incidents spurred the Cumberland County Board of Education and members of the Cumberland County Commission to lobby the Tennessee Department of Transportation for more warning lights for the busy school zone. A new light was placed a little further away, offering a warning to motorists to slow down as they head south. 

The school system provides support to the officers through various training opportunities, as well. As schools prepare to open for a new school year, they presented a session for SROs on Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACEs. These are traumatic experiences that occur in a child’s life such as abuse, neglect, parental substance abuse or mental illness.

Presenters includes Donna King, an ACEs certified facilitator; Bridgette Cox, professional school counselor; and Stephanie Barnes, Phoenix School principal. The training included discussion of how life experiences impact brain development, the effect of toxic stress on learning, and trauma-informed practices. 

Magnusson said the training helps teachers and officers look at situations or student behavior from a new perspective.

“Sometimes, we have to hear what’s going on with a student before we understand why they acted in a certain way,” he said. 

The SRO report was part of the July report to the Cumberland County Board of Education. It represented officer activity from August 2019 through the dismissal of school in March 2020.

In other business, the board approved tentative meeting dates for the 2020-’21 school year, with regular monthly meetings held the fourth Thursday of the month. Exceptions include November and December, which have a combined meeting on Dec. 3, and March 18, moved up one week due to spring break. Director of Schools Ina Maxwell noted dates could be changed as necessary to accommodate changing conditions with the COVID-19 health crisis.

An updated job description was approved for interpreters for the hearing impaired following changes in qualifications enacted by the state. These changes include requiring a minimum of an associate degree and passing the Educational Interpreter Performance Test.

The board made several appointments as the 2020-’21 school year begins. Kim Herring, student information systems administrator, will serve as the testing coordinator for the next year. 

Magnusson will chair the disciplinary hearing board. Other members who may serve are Rebecca Farley, supervisor of instruction pre-K-8th grade; Scott Maddox, supervisor of instruction 9-12 and Career and Technical Education supervisor; Marlene Holton, supervisor of special education; Lisa Phillips, family resource center director; Keena Inman, disgnostician; Kim Bray, human resources director; Sandy Helton, ESL supervisor; and Angela Randolph, federal programs director.

Students who attend the New Colossus Academy, a new private Christian school in Cumberland County, will be able to participate in Cumberland County middle school athletic programs. Jim Inman, 1st District representative, explained the school represented the students previously covered by a cooperative agreement with Crossville Christian School, which has closed.

The board approved the agreement for the 2020-’21 school year.

Changes to the athletic handbook and bylaws were also approved to follow current practices. These include requiring private schools to enter into a cooperative agreement for athletic participation and for homeschool students to participate in athletics at the school they would be zoned to attend.

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