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County schools plan to replace resource officers with safety coaches

In place of school resource officers, the Albemarle County school division wants to put eight school safety coaches into buildings next school year.

The coaches would not be armed nor have the authority to arrest people, but they will have to complete the school safety officer certification through the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services, among other division requirements.

“They’re going to establish themselves as part of our school culture by being an active and front-facing change agent through caring and problem-solving with the staff and the kids that they serve,” said Kevin Kirst, the division’s executive director of special education and student services, during a budget work session last week.

The division wants the eight coaches to be hired by the start of the 2021-22 school year. Which schools they will serve is still being decided, but Kirst said the middle and comprehensive high schools will most likely have one coach apiece.

The division’s school resource officer program ended over the summer following calls from local activists and national protests about racial justice and police brutality. Activists have said that resources could be better used for social workers or programming to support Black students.

Overall, the in-house security program would cost $550,967 — most of which would go to salaries and benefits.

The coaches are one of two new budget proposals included in Schools Superintendent Matt Haas’ funding request for the coming fiscal year.

The Albemarle County School Board will vote on the funding request at Thursday’s meeting after reviewing the proposal at several work sessions. The $209.8 million spending plan includes raises for employees, the restoration of several positions cut from the current operating budget and the use of millions in one-time funding for learning recovery efforts.

Haas’ funding request is an 8% increase from the current $193.7 million operating budget, which was cut at the beginning of the pandemic.

Most of the new spending included in the request would go toward compensation increases. Teachers would get a 5% raise and classified employees would get a 2% bump, under the proposed plan. The division also wants to raise the minimum pay rate to $15 an hour for full-time employees and to $14.29 for part-timers.

The school safety coaches would be paid for by $286,375 in new funding since the division won’t be transferring $264,592 to the Albemarle County Police Department for five school resource officers.

In addition to building relationships with students, the coaches would have a range of responsibilities in the schools, from conducting Title IX investigations to inspecting campuses for compliance with safety codes.

Coaches would have to complete several trainings before they start work, such as on mental health first aid, culturally responsive student interactions and crisis intervention and de-escalation.

Also before next school year, the division is planning to create and publish an operational handbook for the new program.

“So that it’s very transparent as to exactly what the role of our student safety coaches in our buildings is about,” Kirst said.

Some of the goals of the school safety coach proposal are to help improve school climate and reform school discipline, Kirst said.

“We’re going to do this through a really concentrated focus on mental health, de-escalation and restorative justice,” he said, adding the coaches will also help to maintain the safety and security of students, school staff and the property.

To assess the program, the division is planning to develop an in-house survey to hear from school administrators, faculty and students about their perceptions of safety and security on school grounds.

“Our SMART goals would be determined by the success of a three-year trend on data on school climate by both staff and students, particularly looking at their feelings of safety and security while at school,” Kirst said.

Initially, the division called these new positions school safety specialists.

“I think you’ll find the decision to change the title to student safety coaches really reflects the direction of this proposal much more accurately than the previous title,” Kirst said.

In June, the Charlottesville School Board voted to end the program and now a division committee is looking at different models for safety and security. The board will most likely vote on a new model in May, according to a presentation at last week’s meeting.

The contours of Albemarle’s plan were presented to board members in August as part of a new security paradigm. Creating the in-house school security program was one prong of the change. Other prongs were hiring more mental health counselors or professionals and negotiating a new agreement between the division and county police department

Since then, Nick King, the division’s director of student services who oversaw the program, left for a job in North Carolina. Hiring for that position is underway with two finalists under consideration, according to the division documents. A new director is expected to be announced later this month.

Source: www.dailyprogress.com

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