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VOL. 43 | NO. 37 | Friday, September 13, 2019

Who pays price when police snub difficult schools?

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Metro police officers are stationed at schools across Nashville every day, but not in the two that, arguably, need them the most.

Those two schools, the W.A. Bass and Johnson Alternative Learning Centers, are for students who have had behavioral or academic issues at their regular schools.

As a website for Johnson puts it, the idea is to allow “students who would otherwise be excluded due to expulsion from school to continue their educational experience.”

The tough cases, if you will.

In February, Capt. David Corman of the Metro police, who oversees what are known as school resource officers, decided conditions at Bass and Johnson were too tough for the three officers assigned to the campuses.

He cited verbal abuse by students and generally unsafe conditions for the police.

“I’m not going to send officers into a hostile environment where people don’t want the police there,” he says, according to The Tennessean.

I appreciate the captain’s concern for his officers. But I thought that was exactly the kind of place where the police are supposed to be.

A police spokeswoman, Kristin Mumford, told The Tennessean in February that school resource officers have three responsibilities: education, mentoring and law enforcement.

“They’re not there to be security guards,” she said.

I found the comments interesting, and a bit contradictory. Here’s what the Tennessee Department of Education says about the role:

“Law enforcement and local education agencies have a long history of partnering together for the safety of students. Strong relationships have strengthened the ability of both agencies to prepare for and respond to criminal and/or threatening incidents that occur in school settings.”

Kind of sounds like security to me.

School and Metro officials voiced concern at the time over the Police Department decision to pull out.

“If you have a community with high crime, do you stop policing that neighborhood?” said Principal Myron Franklin of Johnson, according to The Tennessean. “I would say no. But it’s not that we have a lot of high crime. We have a lot of children that are traumatized, for whatever reason and whatever happened. It is our job to help them mitigate those issues.

“With myself and the SROs, we could do a lot.”

The police stood firm, however, and decided to send officers to the two schools only when conducting special programs. That’s how things stand now.

“School Resource Officer Mark Bennett is working closely with Dr. Franklin at Johnson Alternative School in planning these programs for the betterment of students,” Mumford, the police spokeswoman, told me in an email message.

“But, if needed, officers can and will respond accordingly,” she added. “It is important to note that MNPS provides security at both schools. Also, MNPD’s outreach to young persons includes community engagement throughout Nashville as officers interact with young people on a regular basis in neighborhoods and at numerous events. Our Youth Services Division also conducts outreach, including the Strengthening Families Program.”

In case you confused anything with those MNPS and MNPD abbreviations in there, the police have succeeded in shifting security responsibility from themselves to the schools.

Dawn Rutledge, a schools spokeswoman, said: “The district has placed MNPS security team officers at the schools. We have four officers who rotate, covering morning and afternoon shifts.”

As for a police presence, Rutledge said, “We are very open to having them return and provide security support, speakers and other resources, as they can.”

There are no plans, and no talks, for the officers to return to the schools permanently, Mumford said.

Did I mention that it’s expected to cost the schools an estimated $228,000 this school year to provide those private security guards at the two schools?

I probably should.

Joe Rogers is a former writer for The Tennessean and editor for The New York Times. He is retired and living in Nashville.

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