For Worthington high schools, the addition of a full-time police presence has been a topic of conversation for years.
Worthington Schools this month unveiled a potential plan to add full-time officers known as school-resource officers at Thomas Worthington and Worthington Kilbourne high schools.
An officer from Worthington would be at Thomas Worthington and a Columbus officer would be at Worthington Kilbourne because of its location outside city limits.
The addition of SROs has yet to be decided and is expected to be discussed at the school board’s meeting Monday, June 25.
Worthington has used part-time SROs in the past and is one of the few central Ohio districts to not have a full-time presence, according to Randy Banks, assistant superintendent.
Banks said he expects the cost for full-time SROs would be less than $200,000 each and funding for the positions also haven’t been finalized.
If the policy is adopted, Banks said, it will be reviewed after a year.
“It will be the type of thing that will require action to renew, not the type of thing that is automatically renewed,” he said. “I think that’s just a more cautious approach, and I feel like there’s some consensus regarding that type of approach.”
Banks, who handles security at the schools, said the topic has been discussed since 2012, when 20 students were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
And in the wake of recent school shootings, Banks said, it was time to move on the issue.
“Obviously, what’s happened in our nation over the last couple months has continued that conversation,” he said.
After a shooting left 17 dead in February at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, Superintendent Trent Bowers said he and the district didn’t feel full-time SROs were necessary.
“Worthington has never supported an officer, and that is less a financial decision than a philosophical one in that police officers in school often criminalize behavior and put students in the juvenile-justice system that used to just suffer school consequences,” he said at the time.
Banks said the district asked Worthington police Chief Jerry Strait to do an “audit” of surrounding schools and found the lack of a full-time SRO was a rarity in central Ohio.
That’s the reason behind the change in policy, he said.
“I’ve been told that there were philosophies in the past, and (SROs) weren’t placed there for those reasons,” he said. “I don’t know that there’s been a shift, but I think our research shows that SROs have become much more common in 2018 than they were in 2012 when we began to look at this option.”
Strait agreed and said he thought Worthington should adopt the policies of similar districts.
“I believe it would be very helpful,” he said.
Thomas Worthington principal Pete Scully said SROs would be “an important part of our school-safety approach.”
“They will be another trusted adult in the school, a highly trained school resource, and will reduce response time in the event of an emergency.”
But not everyone is convinced that SROs are a good idea.
Several parents expressed their concerns about the topic at the June 11 school board meeting, where it was introduced. They cited concerns about escalating problems and adding criminality to issues that could be addressed by the school.
Banks said the district has compiled figures of criminal charges stemming from incidents at the school and will review incidents involving the SRO so the district could track whether the presence of full-time SROs would cause an increase in arrests.
He said district leadership has “heard that concern” and is aiming to alleviate it.
“We feel like we have baseline data that we can monitor how the addition of the SRO does or does not impact those arrest rates,” he said. “It would be our hope that it doesn’t.”
Strait said he can’t promise that officers would be more lenient when in schools but said arrests aren’t his goal.
“Depending on what the criminal incident might be, there’s different levels there. So if it’s something very serious or violent, we’ll take whatever actions are necessary,” he said.
“For non-major or violent incidents, we would want to interact with the school. A lot of time, the administrative oversight schools can provide is not only more successful to deterring incidents, but I think the ultimate goal is to educate kids and remember they’re young people.”
Strait said he hopes any SROs involved would be part officer and part counselor, helping to serve as a “role model” for students and talking to them about issues rather than simply punishing.
He said the program would be a good opportunity for interaction “so that people aren’t just having negative experiences with officers.”
“It’s nice to have a non-criminal or traffic-related time when you can converse with somebody and let them know that you’re a real person and let them ask unfettered questions,” he said.