By Sophie Kidd
The Lexington City Council is moving ahead with a plan to hire a school resource officer even though it hasn’t yet been awarded a state grant needed to fund the position.
In 2018, Lexington rejected a $56,500 grant from the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services that was part of a state initiative to encourage schools to hire resource and security officers.
Tim Diette, chair of the Lexington school board, said he was against the proposal to hire officers at the time.
“We got a little ahead [of ourselves] in prior years. We had applied for a grant without sort of a discussion that was inclusive of a broader set of constituents,” he said.
So, the city started over.
Jason White, Lexington City Schools’ director of operations and student services, said officials tried to address residents’ concerns about introducing an armed security officer into the schools.
“We surveyed all stake holders—teachers, parents, community—just to see if they thought there was a need for it. So, we distributed the survey this fall and had very positive responses in supporting the option moving forward.”
Diette said many people were initially opposed the idea because they didn’t understand why the schools needed a resource officer.
“Some people think of it as, ‘Well, the main goal of it is to stop school shootings.’ But that’s not really the primary role of a school resource officer. It’s a very broad job that really builds on the collaboration we already have with the Lexington Police Department,” he said.
Critics of school resource officers worry that introducing a law enforcement officer into the schools leads to increases in disciplinary actions against students.
“We worked very hard on listening to the community’s needs, so it won’t be this perceived ‘pipeline to prison’ program,” White said. “The principals will still be the primary disciplinarians in the school. I think one of its most important aspects is that it could be potentially one more adult in the building who could make a positive relationship with a kid.”
The city will apply for a state grant, which is due in May.
But the city’s budget process should be finished by then. The city usually adopts a budget in early spring for the next fiscal year.
White said the finance department must proceed as if the city will bear the full cost of the school resource officer.
Until the state grant comes through, White said, the cost of the resource officer would come out of the police department’s budget.
“Most of the time, schools that are implementing a program have priority. So, we are hopeful that since we have not had a school resource officer, we would receive the grant,” White said.
Diette said a resource officer would start working as early as this summer.