School safety

Five things to know about school resource officers in Tennessee

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Gov. Bill Haslam’s task force on school safety has identified expanded coverage by trained school safety staff — known as school resource officers, or SROs — as an immediate priority for Tennessee.

In response, the Republican governor, who is against a legislative proposal to arm some teachers with handguns, has set aside extra money in his proposed budget for state grants to help vulnerable districts pay for SROs and other security needs.

As Tennessee reviews the safety of its 1,700-plus public schools after this year’s fatal shooting rampage at a Florida high school, here are five things to know about its SRO program:

1. SROs have been around in Tennessee since 1993.

Rutherford County was the first to hire them, when then-Sheriff Truman Jones assigned five officers to keep schools secure and serve as safety resources to students and educators. That was five years before the Columbine massacre, where two students shot and killed 13 people at a Colorado high school and put mass school shootings on the national consciousness. “The [national] trend before then was to put officers in schools to build relationships with students and help with kids who were having problems,” said Terry Ashe, executive director of the Tennessee Sheriffs Association. “We knew school shootings were a probability, though. The research was out there.”

2. Tennessee’s program has grown to 991 SROs, covering more than half of the state’s school buildings.

Most schools without an SRO are elementary schools. “If you’re going to have issues, it’s typically been in high schools,” said Justin Grogan, who patrols Moore County High School and heads the Tennessee School Resource Officer Association. Sixteen of the state’s more than 140 school districts have no SROs. Some metropolitan schools are staffed with security officers, which Grogan said do not have to be sworn law enforcement officers, although they can be.

3. How they are funded is a hodgepodge.

SROs do not fall under Tennessee’s education funding formula. Some are paid for by their local school districts, while others are funded by individual counties via the sheriff’s budget. “It’s really all over the map,” said Ashe. Because law enforcement pay varies widely across the state, there’s no accurate figure on how much it would cost for every Tennessee school to have one, according to Ashe.

4. SROs are sworn law enforcement officers.

They must have at least two years of experience in law enforcement, which means that they’ve graduated from one of Tennessee’s police academies with more than 400 hours of training. In addition, they must complete 40 hours of training to obtain their SRO certification, and another 16 hours annually to keep it. Much of the annual training is conducted by the state SRO association at its annual conference in June. SROs also must undergo annual training in firearms.

5. They answer to their sheriff or police chief, not their principal or superintendent.

Like any law enforcement officer, SROs carry a gun and a badge and have the authority to make arrests. They also must file a report on any crime or arrest with their local law enforcement department, which then sends the information to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. “There are a lot of bad situations that SROs have stopped that you never hear about,” said Ashe. “Eighty-five percent of these incidents is somebody coming in from the outside — maybe a parent, maybe a former student. We’re intervening every day. You just don’t read about it in the newspapers.”

Timely Decision

Detroit school board approves 2018-19 academic calendar after union agrees to changes

PHOTO: Hero Images
Ivy Bailey, president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, said teachers agreed to calendar changes to do what's best for students.

The Detroit school board approved this year’s academic calendar Tuesday night, hours after Detroit’s main district and its largest teachers union settled a contract disagreement.

The calendar approval, which comes just three weeks before the first day of school, includes some changes to the original calendar spelled out in the teachers’ contract.  The new calendar was approved last week by a school board subcommittee without comment from the the Detroit Federation of Teachers, and it was on the agenda for tonight’s meeting of the full school board.

After discussion with the district, the union signed an agreement on the changes, known as a memorandum of understanding.

The calendar eliminates one-hour-early releases on Wednesdays and moves the teacher training that occurred during that time mostly to the beginning of the school year. It also will move spring break to April 1-5, 2019 — a few weeks earlier than the April 19-26 break specified in the contract.

Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said the situation was not ideal, and he realizes that some teachers may already have made plans for the week of April 19-26.

“Hopefully, our teachers realize they should be there,” he said. But if vacation plans were already made and can be changed, “that’s good.”

“We will be prepared as much as possible to have substitutes and even district staff, if it’s necessary,” he said.

Ivy Bailey, president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, said teachers aren’t pleased about the agreement.

“No, we were not happy with the change,” Bailey said.

Addressing a question from board member LaMar Lemmons, Bailey said the calendar changes “did constitute an unfair labor practice” because, among other reasons, teachers lost preparation days with the new calendar.

“We are not happy, but we are here for students,” Bailey said. “We understand this is what’s right for students. We put students first, and we are going to work it out.”

The earlier spring break is designed to avoid the testing window for the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test, a college entrance exam commonly known as the PSAT.

Other changes to the calendar include eliminating scheduled parent-teacher conferences on October 31 because of the Halloween celebration.

calendar quandary

Detroit district and union hammer out last-second agreement on school calendar before vote at tonight’s board meeting

A screenshot of the proposed academic calendar that has caused concern among union officials.

Detroit’s main school district and its largest teachers union settled a contract disagreement Tuesday afternoon after tensions arose over the seemingly routine approval of this year’s academic calendar.

The proposed calendar includes some changes to the one spelled out in the teachers’ contract. It was approved last week by a school board subcommittee without comment from the union, and the same calendar was on the agenda for tonight’s meeting of the full school board.

With just three weeks until the first day of school, parents and teachers are relying on the calendar to make travel plans and childcare arrangements.

No details were available about the agreement.

Ken Coleman, a spokesman for the Detroit Federation of Teachers, said the agreement was resolved before the meeting started, but couldn’t provide further details. District spokeswoman Chrystal Wilson said she expected the calendar to go to a vote without opposition from the union.

Coleman said earlier on Tuesday that a vote to approve the calendar could violate the teachers’ contract.

Union leaders were surprised last week when Chalkbeat reported that the board was considering a calendar that was different from the one approved in their contract.

The proposed calendar would eliminate one-hour-early releases on Wednesday and move the teacher training that occurred during that time mostly to the beginning of the school year. It also would move spring break to April 1-5, 2019 — a few weeks earlier than the April 19-26 break specified in the contract.

The earlier spring break is designed to avoid the testing window for the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test, a college entrance exam commonly known as the PSAT, according to school board documents.

Union officials have said that they had no major objections to the contents of the calendar, only to the way in which it was approved.

Correction: Aug. 14, 2018 This story has been corrected to show that the union and district have reached an agreement about the academic calendar.  A previous version of the story, under the headline “An 11th-hour disagreement over an academic calendar could be settled at tonight’s school board meeting,” referenced a pending agreement when an agreement had in fact been reached.