Catoosa County Schools Superintendent Denia Reese and county commissioners came to an agreement this week to add school resource officers (SROs) to the system's elementary schools.
Currently, the county's seven middle and high schools each have an SRO, but after an executive session meeting Tuesday night, March 6, a deal to supply all schools with such protection is all but approved.
"The Board of Education and I are proud to announce that the Catoosa County Board of Commissioners and Catoosa County Sheriff Gary Sisk are partnering with us to add five more resource officers in Catoosa County Schools," Reese said. "We have been very fortunate to have SROs in our secondary schools for over 25 years. We believe that adding them in the elementary schools will be important for physical safety, but also for establishing the critical relationship of trust between our children and our law enforcement officers early in their lives."
After meeting with commissioners Tuesday night, March 6, both boards held a press conference Wednesday regarding the matter.
Both sides have agreed to work the cost into their budgets for next year, and then have the officers in place for the 2018-19 school year.
According to Marissa Brower, communications specialist for Catoosa County Public Schools, the boards will split the cost, with both boards allocating about $200,000 to the deal.
The county has 10 elementary schools, which means some of the officers will split time between schools.
Brower says one of those 10 schools will have an officer on duty all day due to its location.
"Woodstation is the farthest away, which is why it will have a designated (SRO)," Brower said. "A lot of the other schools are closer to the sheriff's office or city police, but because of where Woodstation is, they'll have their own."
The addition of officers is a security upgrade the school system was looking at even before the mass school shooting in Parkland, Fla., last month, which has sparked calls nationwide for greater security at schools, including a call to train and arm some teachers.
Over the past couple of years, the school system has added additional surveillance cameras, a Crisis Lockdown Alert Status System (CLASS), and "buzz-in" systems to all the schools.
Another topic of conversation in recent weeks is the possibility of adding metal detectors to each school.
The Catoosa County Republican Party passed a resolution during its Feb. 27 meeting calling for the installation of metal detectors, as well as the arming and training of some teachers.
The idea of metal detectors was seconded during Tuesday night's commission meeting when Ringgold resident Claude Ross requested such out of concern for children in his family.
"Years ago, I thought they took little taxes to build libraries and stuff," Ross said. "I feel we should investigate that and maybe float a little penny tax or two-cent tax or something to where we can put metal detectors in our schools."
Ross also argued that safety measures are taken in other public buildings, so why not schools?
"You can't go in the courthouse and you can't go into other places without a policeman or a metal detector being there," Ross said. "I feel we need to put our children above everything else — libraries, roads, everything because they are our future. Maybe y'all could get ahead of the ball on this and not wait on states or the federal government to do something and us just take care of our own."
Some of the biggest reasons the boards have agreed to adding officers, rather than metal detectors, is the logistical impact it would have on the routine of the students, plus the long-term cost.
"Heritage High School has 1,300 students. ... Trying to get them into school, through metal detectors, it would take a lot of time," Brower explained. "The school board is always willing to consider anything, but there's a list of things to look at when considering something like that. We'd have to have someone manning all of them, there's additional man hours, security officers, and the price of metal detectors for all the schools."
Although the boards still needs to vote on the agreement, Commission Chairman Steven Henry said he's pleased with how quickly the agreement came together.
“It’s imperative that we take action quickly,” Henry said. “We can’t put a value on the protection of our children.”