A few years back (almost ten now) I was a member of my county Board of Education’s Citizen Advisory Committee. It just so happened that while I was serving in that capacity my county was debating whether or not to add more School Resource Officers (SROs) in the schools. At the time our county had ONE SRO – a state trooper who worked all four county high schools – and an assortment of DARE officers (deputy sheriffs) who were present in the various middle schools as their classes demanded. The Sheriff had secured a DHS grant that would have supported putting an SRO in EVERY school – high school, middle school and elementary school… EVERY school in the county. The Board of Education was, shall we say, resistant to the idea.
As I attended meetings and listened to arguments I found myself getting quite frustrated. Some of the arguments against putting more SROs in the schools included:
- Complaints/concerns about “all those guns that deputies wear coming into the schools.”
- How a uniformed presence might teach students that they aren’t responsible for their own actions. (if there’s a deputy present then the students might misbehave instead of acting responsibly.)
- The question of who the SRO answered to: the Principal of the school or the Sheriff?
- The question of whether or not the SRO/Deputy would enforce school policy or only the law.
I liked to think of myself as the voice of sweet reason on the side of the Sheriff’s office in those discussions.
Obviously there is no convincing some people that guns are not inherently evil or dangerous, so some of the Advisory Committee members were going to vote against added SROs simply because they didn’t like (or know much about) guns.
The opinion that the presence of a uniform deputy would somehow encourage students to misbehave is akin to suggesting that having a marked patrol car on the highway encourages people to speed. No, it doesn’t make any sense, but it was a clear indicator of the intelligence/common sense level of some of the other advisory committee members.
Whether the deputy would answer to the principal of the school or to the Sheriff seemed a silly question to me. In matters of school policy in non-emergency situations, the deputy would answer to the principal. In an emergency situation and/or criminal investigation situation, the deputy would answer to the Sheriff and the law.
It seemed to me that also answered the final question/objection: would the deputy enforce school policy or only the law? Both. However, it quickly became obvious that sometimes the school policy could be determined at the whim of the principal and that the deputy may have no legal authority to enforce such policy. If the deputy would not obey the orders of the principal to enforce legally questionable school policy then the school board did not want the deputy in the school.
Which brings me to the topic at hand: in recent news, an eighth grader was arrested. The precipitating event was that the student refused to take off or turn inside out a pro 2nd Amendment t-shirt that featured a picture of a scoped bolt action rifle and the NRA logo. According to news reports, the student was confronted about the shirt while he was standing in line in the cafeteria. Believing that the shirt was not in violation of the school’s dress code (and having read the school’s published dress code, I don’t believe it was either) he refused to take it off and he refused to turn it inside out. He was sent to the office.
Just for the record, I’ve got no problem with what’s happened so far. The teacher felt a violation of school policy had occurred; the student disagreed; the teacher sends the student to the office. Now, since this student is 14 years old, there is always the question of whether or not he was respectful in his responses to the teacher; however, even if he was not respectful, that’s another school policy violation. So far, I’ve read nothing that would indicate to me the commission of a crime.