MILLEDGEVILLE — Dealing with issues such as contact bullying, cyber bullying, fights and threats is almost a daily challenge for School Resource Officers (SRO).
Baldwin County Schools implemented SROs in the early 1990s. Heightened social media presence in many students’ daily lives coupled with other outside forces and news of school shootings in other communities often changes the landscape.
In order to keep a priority of ensuring a safe school environment for all faculty, staff, students and visitors alike, sheriff’s deputies Tony Holland and Jason Simmons work to form relationships with school personnel and youth while educating on handling negative situations and promoting positive behavior.
Holland has been the school resource office for Oak Hill Middle School since 2008. On a daily basis, he patrols the interior and exterior of school grounds, teaches the Exploring Public Safety course, visits classrooms, and counsels students in an effort to keep the current student population of around 1,250 comfortable and safe in the school setting.
“The idea of the public safety class was an idea by [Oak Hill Principal Dr. Linda Ramsey] and myself; we started the class just this year. We wanted to get more involved with the kids to let them know I’m here not only to be the police, but also their friend,” Holland said. “Most of these kids haven’t been around tragedy or have ever experienced it until the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.”
At Baldwin High School, Simmons said the magnitude of behavior issues and incidents amongst the 1,350 students are on another level compared to middle school.
“When students come to high school, things change in their lives and they’re trying to find themselves. Nobody holds their hand while they try to figure out life right here in this building; you’re dealing with a whole different type of person compared to a middle-schooler,” said Simmons, who has been the high school’s SRO for three years. “The top three issues here are bullying, conflict and smoking. Cyber bullying is a big problem with our children today. A lot of kids have to deal with contact bullying like assaults, but most of the incidents derive from cyber bullying. [SROs] face those challenges daily, like threats via telephone, but it just makes it difficult for us. We also have a lot of thefts.”
Holland said the only difference between the schools are students’ ages, and Oak Hill also deals with drugs, gangs, fights, bullying and cyber bullying.
“What has helped at our school was the idea that we educate our kids on those issues at the middle school level, and I touch on those things in the public safety class. Now, students recognize a situation and they come to me with information. We have a bully committee that handles bullying issues, and depending on what students are stating about the incident, we verify that it is bullying, we come up with a solution, and contact the parents and discuss it with them,” Holland said. “Females fight the most here and at the high school than their male counterparts. This school year, I’ve had over 10 female fights and not one male fight, and nine times out of 10 the females are involved with Facebook and that’s where it comes from. Most of the charges here are disruption of public school. I don’t suspend anybody; I lock people up when they break Georgia laws.”
As members of the National Association of School Resource Officers, Holland and Simmons had to complete training in order to become certified SROs and must continue attending training sessions to keep up-to-date with state laws and learn the do’s and don’ts of how to respond to various situations.
“We have to be certified to work in a school environment. We’re also trained for instruction purposes and understanding gangs. Most of the time, SROs have to travel to get proper training, but due to funding, we’re limited on what we can do,” Simmons said. “We’re always conducting training for teachers and staff so everybody knows what we have to do. We have some type of drill monthly for fire, tornado, bomb threat or lockdown.”
Both deputies, with the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office, police school grounds while wearing the same uniform and equipment as if they were outside the school setting.
“We’re armed just as a sheriff’s deputy would be on the street. I have my duty weapon, pepper spray and Taser,” Simmons said. “We don’t utilize those things much, but we’re here to provide safety and security for teachers, staff and students alike.”
In order to help make their duties as SROs easier and safer, Holland and Simmons urge parents to get involved in their children’s lives and educate themselves on social media.
“I would like to see a more secure environment, more secure protocol for coming on campus, and I would like parents to be more understanding when we have to take action, like having a lockdown,” Simmons said. “The best thing a parent can do is talk to their child and should there be a problem, they should contact the SRO. Talking with us is the best prevention and identification of any problem.”
“Parents need to be more aware of what their kids are doing on the computer. We can say lock doors and put up metal detectors at the schools, but I personally don’t feel that’s the answer. The people in the school — students and faculty — can make it safer along with an SRO,” Holland added. “I feel strongly there is a need for an armed resource officer at the schools. When I speak to kids, they don’t have fear because I’m here. What has helped this school out more than anything is the kids have a relationship with me. Having an SRO doesn’t mean students are bad; it means the school is being proactive and protecting the school. Our goal is to make sure our students feel like school is the safest place to be.”
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