Hamilton County school board moves forward on resource officers, equity counsel

Hamilton County school board moves forward on resource officers, equity counsel

May 24th, 2018 by Emmett Gienapp in Breaking News

In this March 22, 2018, staff file photo, Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Dr. Bryan Jones speaks to the Hamilton County School Board. (Staff Photo by Tim Barber)

Photo by Tim Barber /Times Free Press.

This story was updated May 24, 2018, at 11:45 p.m.

The Hamilton County school board made progress at its meeting Thursday night on a handful of key initiatives, including one to put more school resource officers in district schools and another to ensure Hamilton County students have equitable access to educational resources and personnel.

The board voted unanimously to move forward on a memorandum of understanding with the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office to add what school officials estimate will be another eight or nine resource officers to serve various schools in the area.

Board member David Testerman took a moment to underscore the importance of having trained officers, saying he would like to see one in every Hamilton County school as soon as possible.

"I'm very much in favor of this, but I think we have to, in light of another recent shooting, somehow we have to make this a real priority of ours," he told those in attendance. We need to get officers in every one of our schools as soon as we can."

The Times Free Press reported last month that the board approved a budget including $500,000 for school resource officers. Currently, 29 of the district's 79 schools have officers who assist in the safe operation of those schools and protect students in emergency situations.

A public discussion concerning the need for resource officers in Hamilton County schools was amplified in the wake of the Parkland, Florida, shooting that left 17 dead in February and prompted policy experts to suggest preventative measures that can be adopted moving forward.

Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond has reiterated over the course of several weeks that one of his chief priorities is boosting the number of officers. He stated in a press release that he would prioritize the addition of such officers over arming teachers, another policy suggestion that found some support in the wake of the Parkland shooting.

"There are many ideas that have been offered from every side of the political system. Nevertheless, I believe the main objective is clear: We must protect our children and harden our schools against violence," he wrote, later highlighting that 29 district schools have resource officers.

"This is a good start, but it is not enough," he said.

Board member Steve Highlander echoed Testerman, adding that he would like to see unincorporated municipalities contribute money to paying for additional officers.

"The child must be safe. The teacher must be safe to teach," he said. "We're doing it as best we can. We've already spent a tremendous amount, but it's a tremendous need and we're going to continue."

Also on the board's agenda Thursday night was a decision concerning the hiring of an outside firm to assist and advise the district's task force dedicated to addressing inequity in the school system. The group is comprised of more than two dozen community members, educators and advocates for children.

Community organizations have been calling on officials to address a number of systemic issues that have held back students from predominantly poor, minority communities, and the task force was formed to examine policy and procedural suggestions that might help turn the tide.

On Thursday, the board voted to allow the group to begin seeking funding to pay for assistance from the Howard Group, an outside agency school officials hope can help guide the effort to identify and address some of the larger factors that put some students on unequal footing.

No money has been set aside from the school system's budget to pay for that outside counsel, and if funding is offered by a third party, the school board still needs to vote to approve that investment. Several school board members said they were happy to vote in favor of searching for funding, because they would discuss the issue again before any additional decisions are made.

"To me, it's a no-brainer," said board member Joe Smith. "Whatever comes out of that, we're going to be voting on anyway."

Contact staff writer Emmett Gienapp at egienapp@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6731. Follow him on Twitter @emmettgienapp.


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