I am writing in response to the Our View editorial entitled, “School officers have to be ready for the ordinary” and published on Sept. 12.

When it comes to several points presented in the editorial, I would like to provide a perspective about how one local school and one local police department work collaboratively to support our students.

Your first point is that school resource officers, or SROs, “need to properly prepared” and “that’s not always the case.” Although this may be true in other parts of the United States, this is inaccurate for our school. The Augusta School Department is fortunate to have two school resource officers — one for Cony High School and one that is shared between the four elementary schools. Before one of the SROs steps foot in the school, they go through extensive SRO training. In addition, they participate in continuous professional development throughout the school year. My experience is that they have extensive training on a variety of issues that they will confront in schools. This year the Departments of Justice and Education sponsored an annual training for SROs that was held at Cony High School, which was attended by our officers.

The editorial further stated that schools that “add an officer typically experience an uptick in suspensions, expulsions, and arrests.” Again, this is contrary to our experience. There has been a reduction in these consequences with the addition of our SRO. Prior to the SRO position, our out-of-school high school suspension numbers were 208 instances in school year 2012-2013 and 102 in 2017-2018. For the middle school, our out-of-school suspension numbers were 131 instances in school year 2012-2013 and 48 in 2017-2018. The SRO works collaboratively with the administration and staff and extensively on prevention programs to ensure that students are following expectations to maintain the order and peacefulness of the school environment. The SROs’ presence made our schools safer and serve as a resource for our staff members and students.

Further in the editorial, it states, “The presence of a police officer escalates typical school conflicts and teenager acting out into chargeable offenses.” Again, this is not our experience. Our SRO resolves school conflicts and helps teenagers to make better, safer decisions. When situations merit charges, often times the SRO utilizes the “Diversion to Asset” program, which is designed to divert the teen from the legal system. We are lucky to have such talented and supportive adults like our SROs making personal connections and helping our youth.

In the editorial, it is stated that “schools should consider hiring more psychologists, counselors, and social workers.” Many school districts, including the Augusta School Department, have hired school social workers and LCPCs to help our students with conflict resolution, crisis management and positive decision-making. School Resource Officers do more for our students than utilize handcuffs in situations. In the five-plus years Cony High School has had the privilege of an SRO, handcuffs have only been utilized three times. In each of three situations, the Augusta Police Department would have been called to assist the school department. The SROs help to deescalate situations involving students, they build relationships with students, they are resources for parents, and more.

In our experience, they provide an invaluable resource to our school and community. We truly value our partnership with the Augusta Police Department and we appreciate the commitment that the Augusta City Council and school board have made by approving two SROs for our school system. They have enriched our schools. They make a difference. They are compassionate and support our students in a number of ways both in school and within the community. And indeed, they make our schools safer.

Kimberly Silsby of Augusta is principal of Cony High School.

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