LAURINBURG — A federal grant disbursed through the state to North Carolina’s school districts is expected to provide for the presence of law enforcement in Scotland County’s eight elementary schools before the end of the month.
Scotland County Schools applied to the state Department of Public Instruction in the fall for a $42,000 grant, the amount based on district size, from a pool available to all North Carolina school districts to provide school resource officers at the elementary school level.
“I think what you’re going to see is a trend in the near future where a lot of districts will go towards having resource officers in their elementary schools,” said Larry Johnson, Scotland County Schools assistant superintendent for auxiliary services. “I think the fact that we have this money out there and we’re already on the forefront of that puts us ahead of a lot of districts.”
The school system also installed keyless entry systems district wide last year in an effort to heighten school security in the wake of the Newtown, Conn. school shooting in 2012.
“In recent years we have had some school shootings and it is important that every school in our district is safe and that our teachers are able to teach and our students are able to learn in a safe environment,” said Laurinburg Police Chief Darwin Williams, also a member of the Scotland County Board of Education.
Scotland County Schools is waiting to be awarded an additional $13,000 from money left over after some school districts failed to apply. The school system will match the total $55,000 in order to place two law enforcement officers as elementary-level resource officers. Each of the elementary SROs will work in four schools on a rotating basis — one from the Laurinburg Police Department at the four schools within the city limits and one from the Scotland County Sheriff’s Office at the four schools outside of the city.
School and law enforcement officials termed the move a “proactive” measure, deterring future incidents and familiarizing young students with police rather than addressing an existent concern.
“A lot of the times in a lot of neighborhoods where kids live, the only chance they get to see law enforcement is when something bad happens,” said Sheriff Shep Jones, who added that he would like to see a resource officer in each county school full-time.
“That will ensure that we have an armed officer in every school and if someone comes to a school in Scotland County to cause harm to children or staff, there is a trained officer to combat that.”
“Most of the time the parents will tell a child that if they’re bad they’ll call the police,” Williams added. “We can improve that relationship at a much younger age.”
Currently, resource officers at the county’s three middle schools are available to nearby elementary schools on an on-call basis. Johnson said that, in the 18 months he has been in his current position, no middle school officer has been called to an elementary school.
In addition to increasing the level of safety at the elementary schools, the resource officers are also being placed to take an active role in the educational process at each school.
“One of the key components that the state really pushes with these SROs is that they become mentors and they become educational leaders in the schools as well,” said Scotland County Schools grant writer Amanda Dixon.
Both Williams and Jones said that their department’s resource officer will be selected in part for their rapport with young children.
“The officers are there to enhance the learning experience, not to be a distraction,” Williams said. “This individual has to be unique: someone who’s nurturing and someone who loves working with that population. You have to make sure you put the right person in that situation.”