With the concern of school shootings ramping up over past years, protecting students to threats of gun violence has become a top priority for area school administrators.
Schools have increased the practice of lockdown drills, and students and teachers are consistently briefed on what to do in the event of an active shooter situation.
Frequenting schools, I have sat in on an informative teacher training session at Houston County Schools, which showed both the prevalence and graveness of mass school shootings. Dothan City Schools also partnered with the Dothan Police Department recently to take teachers and administrators through active shooter scenarios at local schools.
Dothan City Schools, as it is formerly known, has had a couple of its own run-ins with students having guns present on campus – most recently in 2018. In that case, a student brought a loaded handgun inside the school to later be discovered by a school resource officer.
Dothan City Police Chief Steve Parrish said the situation highlighted the need for an increased police presence in an Aug. 18 Dothan Eagle article.
Following the incident, the Dothan City personnel board approved a School Protection Officer program for Dothan City Schools, allowing for the funding of 19 SPO positions, leaving no school without law enforcement.
School Protection Officers (SPOs) are a new and different class of officers than School Resource Officers (SROs).
SPOs are trained on intelligence gathering, early warning systems, threat assessments and aspects that support the narrower target of safeguarding the schools.
SPOs are reserve officers who work no more than 32 hours a week at an hourly wage of $18 and have a patrol car outside the school. SPOs wear uniforms
SPOs will rotate periodically between the various schools to gain familiarity with each DCS facility.
Retirees under the Retirement Systems of Alabama are allowed to work part-time and make up to $31,000 a year, meaning that people in this category have the ability to apply for an SPO position.
Since the SPOs must be qualified for the task, they must maintain their Alabama Peace Officers Standards and Training Commission qualifications and adhere to all DPD policies and physical qualifications. SPOs are actually required to post higher test scores in handgun and rifle shooting than other officers.
SROs are different as they provide a law enforcement arm in schools while serving as liaisons between the police department, the school system, and the community through various conferences, discussions, and other responsibilities.
Typically SROs have offices inside schools to conduct meetings and provide counseling.
In the 2018-2019 school year, Dothan City Schools has eight school resource officers funded by city government and 19 school protection officers, whose costs will be split among the city and school board for the 2019-2020 school year under their agreement.
Houston County Schools added four additional deputies as SROs to an existing two to patrol 10 schools.
Both school districts presented to the county commission requests for funds to hire more SROs in the coming fiscal year. But several other departments presented great need in other areas as well. The Houston County Commission typically makes final budget decisions at the beginning of September.
Chalk Talk, an education notebook compiled by education beat reporter Sable Riley, appears each weekend in the Dothan Eagle and at DothanEagle.com