After a second meeting filled with contentious debate, the Worthington school board on June 25 voted 3-2 for adding school resource officers to the district's high schools.

School resource officers are uniformed police officers who are stationed in one or more of a district's buildings during the school year, under an agreement between the school district and the law-enforcement agency that has jurisdiction.

Thomas Worthington High School will hire a Worthington Division of Police officer and Worthington Kilbourne High School will hire a Columbus Division of Police officer.

A half-dozen parents told the board they feared that typical behavior by children could land a student in the juvenile justice system, especially among such groups as minority students and those with developmental disabilities. Several parents advocated hiring other professionals, such as counselors and nurses, to help troubled kids.

"Students in policed schools are up to five times more likely to be charged with disorderly conduct," said Meagan Kane, a mother of two and a nurse practitioner who works in child and adolescent mental health. She was referring to a 2009 University of Tennessee study.

A new concern, Kane said, is about what could happen with undocumented students who encounter police in the school.

But Worthington teachers think a police presence could help, said Nancy Smith, who teaches math at Worthington Kilbourne.

"Earlier this year, I had to break up a fight between two students," Smith said. "Teachers are being asked to do so much. We cannot ask them to take on more responsibility."

When it came time for the board to vote, the debate went around and around, with Jennifer Best, Sam Shim and President Julie Keegan saying they were in favor and Charlie Wilson and Nikki Hudson speaking against it.

Best said she trusts the judgment of the two high school principals and has had discussions with graduates.

"The students I talked to ... felt safer in a school with an SRO," she said.

Best also said she is concerned about response times of emergency services.

Wilson said it was all premature, with no firm plan to govern the responsibilities of the officers and no solid cost yet -- just a ballpark figure of $200,000 a year.

"I would like to see us slow this down a little bit," Wilson said.

"The common response I get, talking to people in Worthington, is 'We don't already have SROs?' " Shim said.

The district has had armed officers in buildings and at sporting events, he said, and leaders don't hear complaints.

"The majority of the emails we have received have been against SROs as opposed to for SROs," Hudson said.

Hudson read an email from a parent who is scared of the prospect and said she might feel compelled to move.

Of 16 public school districts located primarily in Franklin County, only Bexley, Grandview Heights, Hamilton Local and Worthington do not employ resource officers.

sgilchrist@dispatch.com

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