BOONE — Watauga County Schools will see two new school resource officers in the coming months as the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office narrows down applicants for the positions.
WCS announced in August that these positions are funded by a grant from the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. The district received $66,667 from the state, along with matching funds of $100,000 from the Watauga County Board of Commissioners for these positions.
The Watauga County Board of Education adopted a new memorandum of understanding with the county for the hire of the two positions at its Nov. 13 meeting. The county’s Board of Commissioners approved the agreement between the two parties at its Nov. 20 meeting.
The MOU states that the “purpose of the (SRO) position is to create a safe, inviting and engaging learning environment for all students and school staff members.”
General duties of these offices, as listed in the MOU, include protecting students, staff, visitors and property of the school; investigating criminal activity on school property; assisting other law enforcement agencies as well as social services/mental health agencies; patrolling the school campus; counseling school staff in crisis prevention and intervention; and conducting informal counseling with students and families.
SROs will also be tasked with prevention efforts — such as establishing positive relationships with students, assisting students and teachers through conflict resolution classroom activities and maintaining a crime prevention tip-line or website. In addition, they are asked to provide intervention in ways such as identifying causes of violence in schools and educating students on consequences of violence and criminal behavior, according to the MOU.
Sheriff Len Hagaman told the commissioners that there were a total of five applicants for the positions with two people selected for interviews. The interview team was comprised of WCSO Capt. Kelly Redmon, current SRO Seth Morrison, WCS Student Services Director Paul Holden and two school principals — Mary Smalling at Hardin Park and Preston Clarke at Valle Crucis.
Redmon stated he was confident the positions would be filled with officers on duty by Jan. 1.
Once chosen, the SROs will attend a state training that could possibly be a four-week course with law enforcement and counseling-type components, Hagaman said. The MOU states the officers must complete an SRO certification with the NC Justice Academy.
There are no specific assignments for the two new SROs yet, according to WCS spokesperson Garrett Price. These two officers, along with Morrison, will split time between the county schools without a SRO on duty. The two schools with an assigned SRO on duty include Watauga High School — funded by state funds to the school system — and Blowing Rock School — funded by the town of Blowing Rock.
Price also stated the MOU document was largely based on the already existing MOUs with the towns of Boone and Blowing Rock. The document states that WCS will provide an office for the SROs and a desired work schedule in accordance with WCSO’s personnel policies. These deputies will report to both WCS and WCSO for authority; reporting to the schools in matters of school policy and to the sheriff’s office for all other law enforcement duties.