By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
The May 24 slaughter of 19 students and teachers, along with the wounding of 17 others at a Uvalde, Texas elementary school might have facilitated the action, but Escambia County Sheriff Heath Jackson said he and school officials had discussed keeping School Resource Officers (SROs) in place over the summer long before that tragedy occurred.
“We had been in talks early on about trying to do something with school resource, as far as funding, trying to figure out other ways to make our program bigger,” the sheriff said of an agreement to keep the lawmen in local schools during June, July and August. “They had actually reached out and talked about their summer program and the logistics of it prior to the school shooting in Texas, and we all came to an agreement that we’re going to keep resource officers in place for the summer.”
He said funding for the SROs would come from the sheriff’s budget, not school system money.
“We had talked about it before the shooting (at Robb Elementary School), but after what happened in Texas, it just made it an easier decision to go ahead and fund it, make sure they are there,” Jackson said. “We’ll have resource officers in each of our feeder patterns — Escambia County, Flomaton and W.S. Neal, just like we do during the regular school year, and we’re not charging the school system a thing.”
The school-based deputies are usually utilized during summer months to help cover patrol shortages due to vacations.
“Normally, we pull them back to the office and utilize them there,” Jackson said. “The school system pays for them during the school year, but after the school year, we absorb them back in, use them to supplement patrol functions, things of that nature.”
The only time the officers won’t be covering all the feeder patterns is when they have to conduct training sessions to keep their certification.
“We’ll have to have them to do all their training,” the sheriff explained. “We’ll have to pull them at some point to get a week’s worth of training in, keep their certifications current. Other than that, they’ll be there .”
Superintendent of Education Michele McClung said in the May 22 edition of the school system’s Principal Newsletter that security would be a priority over the summer.
“Tight security as we close school down and reopen for summer school is expected all summer long,” she wrote. “School Resource Officers will continue working this summer at our schools. We are thankful to Sheriff Jackson for allowing their continued presence this summer, with the exception of the week SROs get recertified.”
The superintendent urged principals to help keep the various schools secure.
“Please ensure no employee props open a door on your campus at any time,” she wrote. “Additionally, it is a good time to remind our office personnel to ensure they are reviewing video footage of everyone buzzing the doorbell to come inside (their) school. They may ask individuals who they are and the nature of their visit for security measures before letting people inside if that person is unfamiliar to (school) staff.”