April 11, 2012 10:14:45 AM
It started with the bomb threats. As the Columbus Municipal School District fought to get a grip on an escalating situation -- six threats within a six-week time span -- school officials learned an awful truth: Two of the nine threats against city and county schools this year were placed by a Columbus High student, from a school bathroom.
So, the Board of Trustees Monday night voted to hire additional security for the high school, Interim Superintendent Dr. Martha Liddell said Tuesday, noting the advent of spring also statistically means an increase in discipline issues.
When pressed, Liddell admitted another factor in the decision to amp security -- a recent weekend fight, which began on Facebook and spilled into the high school corridors.
"There's something about spring fever; you tend to have more fights," Liddell said. "We had one a few weeks ago that was disturbing, because it was more students than usual. According to Principal (Scott Hallmark), seven or eight were involved and other kids started jumping in."
The aggressors were taken to the Lowndes County Juvenile Detention Center, but Liddell said the incident demonstrates the importance of having enough administrators and security guards to handle the 1,300 students at CHS.
Doran Johnson was hired Monday night to patrol the halls of the high school on a temporary basis through June 30. Chief Resource Officer Jimmy Bonner is headquartered at Columbus High, but floats as needed between the district's seven schools, and a third resource officer is stationed at Columbus Middle School.
School officials Wednesday were unable to provide the salary amount offered to Johnson, who worked for the district as a school resource officer from 2005 to 2010. School board member Jason Spears said the position, which will be about 20 hours per week, is not salaried and will cost the district roughly around $6,000 per year.
She said it has not yet been decided whether the district will fund three resource officers next school year, but she's hoping, as the board reviews the budget this summer, they'll find enough cost-savings to consider it.
School board member Currie Fisher said the board will have to look at the budget's ability to support an additional resource officer, but she agreed with Liddell's assertion and noted, with the large population of students at CHS and the relatively low number of security personnel, she believed extra security was needed to enhance what's already in place.
She said she expected concerns about the hiring of an additional person, given the board's decision last month not to renew the contracts of 68 certified staff members, the majority of which were teachers. But she stressed Johnson's position is temporary until June, and once budget talks begin, the public will have the opportunity to give input on whether or not extra security at the high school is warranted.
It's mostly a preventative action, Liddell said. The resource officers are certified police officers, with authority to make arrests, and district officials hope increased police presence will stop trouble before it starts.
Resource officers also can act as trusted adults for students who may develop a close enough relationship to feel comfortable divulging potential situations brewing.
"It's important to have more (resource officers) visible, especially at the secondary level," Liddell said. "Nothing has escalated on the campuses at all, other than the bomb threats. But the last few weeks of school, the kids get really rowdy, so it's just a preventative measure."
Last month, the district hosted a safety summit with local law enforcement agencies and a national technology expert, to develop better strategies for threat assessment and response, both at school and during off-campus school activities.
Those discussions will be continued Friday, with a joint session between district officials and representatives from the Mississippi Department of Education, from 10 a.m. to noon at Brandon Central Services.
Deputy Superintendent Craig Shannon recently estimated 26 hours of instruction time have been wasted in the district, from handling multiple bomb threats this school year, with 14 of those hours being lost at Columbus High School.
Carmen K. Sisson is the former news editor at The Dispatch.
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