By Amantha Garpiel
TIPP CITY — The Tipp City Board of Education heard from Deputy Chief Jack Davis of the Tipp City Police Department (TCPD) Tuesday, March 7, regarding approval of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the City Council, TCPD and the school district for a full-time school resource officer (SRO) program.
According to Davis, the SRO program has been an idea and project for the TCPD for a few months prior to this meeting, but with recent events and an increase in patrol calls to the school buildings the program has come to the forefront and is something the police department would like to move forward with as soon as possible so that two full-time SROs can be hired, trained and in the Tipp City school buildings beginning next school year.
While the main goal is to get two full-time SROs into the schools, Davis presented multiple phases to increase safety in Tipp City Schools. The first phase is to increase in technology including additional security cameras, raptor security check-in system and facial recognition software in each building. According to Davis, this first phase is set to be implemented by the start of next school year.
The second phase is infrastructure improvements including projects such as new fencing and parking lot barriers. Additional improvements will be presented once each building’s vulnerability and threat assessments are completed at the end of the summer. Phase three, training and communication, includes continuously training staff to deal with safety issues and keep them up to date. This phase also includes developing strong relationships between the schools and police department to maintain communication between the two.
Finally, phase four is the implementation of full-time SROs. The officers would work to provide a safe learning space for students and act as liaisons between the school and the police department. SROs also work to identify students who are potentially at risk of becoming involved in the criminal justice system. SROs will provide security and safety during school events and monitor security systems throughout school days. Lastly, Davis noted that having SROs in the schools would lower the number of times road patrol units have to respond to calls at various school buildings.
“Currently Tipp City Schools is one of the few schools in a four-county area that does not have a full-time SRO who’s in the school buildings,” said Davis. “I think it’s essential to implement phase four of the Enhanced School Safety Plan.”
“Tipp City Police Department values our partnership with the school district. One of our top priorities is to provide a safe learning and working environment for children and school district staff. Two full-time SROs would go a long way in ensuring these goals,” said Davis.
Following Davis’ presentation regarding SROs, Board members Anne Zakkour and Theresa Dunaway, while in support of the program, raised numerous concerns.
Dunaway voiced her concerns of why the district feels the need to bring on full-time SROs, “One thing we hear — we don’t have any bullying, we don’t have any issues. And then the next thing I hear is we need SRO officers, they’ve doubled their hours in our buildings, as board members we don’t hear that. So, in order for me to approve an $80,000 taxpayer expense, I need data as to why.”
“They’re a main resource and paired up with the principals in the school. It’s presence and all about building rapport with the students,” said Davis. “They’re not here to nose around, they’re not here to start up a small little police department in the schools. They’re here to work with the principals and whatever the teachers need and can address (situations) right there on the scene.”
“We’re out here quite often. This would alleviate and keep our road officers on the road, enforcing the law and out in the community instead of spending more time in the schools,” said Davis.
The MOU draft, which is used by the county and has been in existence for six years without issues, according to Davis, was produced after collaboration with the County Commissioners, Superintendent’s Association and approved by Miami County Prosecutors Office.
Zakkour and Dunaway both raised concerns of FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) records versus the public record of the police.
“I’m asking, how is that school resource officer framed within that (school) system?” asked Zakkour.
“They’re going to be a police officer and a police officer only that is here to assist with whatever your administration needs. They’re not going to get into the roots of the school discipline, that’s not their job,” Davis replied.
Zakkour went on to point out that in the language of the MOU draft, SROs will maintain records as their records are not school records.
“That in and of itself opens up a big distinction in FERPA law. We are now no longer talking about the safeguards that go with “FERPA covered education records.” For example, when you have education records covered by FERPA, that means that whoever works in the system of education has an obligation to honor the confidentialities, with some exceptions… but without that exception, you cannot non-consensually waive that information. That information belongs to the student and the parent and must be waived by them.” said Zakkour. “I am not against school resource officers. What I am totally against is eliminating any of the safeguards that go with the protection of student’s confidential education records. I am not in favor of putting in a system where you all maintain your own records system and therefore it’s no longer covered by FERPA.”
Zakkour also noted, despite all of the eyes that have previously looked at the MOU draft, that she feels it would be appropriate to have the school district lawyers, who are familiar with education law, look over the draft before the board signs the MOU.
The board unanimously passed a motion for “approval of the MOU between the Tipp City Police Department, The Board of Council of the City of Tipp City and the Tipp City Board of Education in consultation with the school district’s legal counsel.