Define “open for business:” BCS, BCSO discuss details of drafted Memorandum of Understanding

Published 1:53 pm Wednesday, May 15, 2024

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When students are not in a school building, should it be considered an educational environment that requires protection from a school resource officer? 

That’s what the Beaufort County Board of Education (BOE) and Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office are working to answer as a deadline to sign a Memorandum of Understanding looms. 

The Memorandum of Understanding outlines services Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office will provide to the school system when 12 School Resource Officers (SRO) from the sheriff’s office are reintroduced into schools on July 1. It is a nonbinding agreement that states the intention of the sheriff’s office to provide law enforcement services to the school district in addition to defining a partnership between the sheriff’s office and school district. 

The BOE, sheriff’s office and Beaufort County Government have collaborated for the last six months to replace officers from Allied Universal, a third-party safety and security company. 

At their May 7 meeting, the Board of Education discussed phrasing in the memorandum that will determine if school resource officers will be on campus during the summer when students are either attending summer school or participating in athletics. 

The memorandum states that “SROs will provide law enforcement services during the entire school day as set forth by Beaufort County Schools and on each day the district is open for business,” Dr. Matthew Cheeseman, superintendent of Beaufort County Schools, read aloud. 

The school district believes that if students are on campus at any time during the calendar year, then a school resource officer needs to be present as well, Cheeseman said at the meeting. 

In July, students taking summer school courses will go to John Small Elementary. Intermittently, middle school and high school students will be on their school’s campus participating in athletics with the exception of Beaufort County Early College. 

Schools on a more traditional schedule like Eastern Elementary School, John Cotten Tayloe, Chocowinity Primary School and John Small (except for summer school), would not have students on campus during the summer. 

Sheriff Scott Hammonds believes the summer months should be used by school resource officers to receive new or updated safety and security training, certification and take vacation time. He added that “time currency” is an important factor – from the sheriff’s office perspective – in writing a schedule that meets the needs of the school and allows time for professional development. 

“Everything that has to do with a child at a school function – we are there,” Hammonds said, “We have already made that just perfectly clear…It’s when [students] are not there is when we are using time currency to train, certify, refresh, vacation.” 

Necessary, continuous training includes, but is not limited to: CPR, weapons qualifications, active shooter and emergency entry. 

This summer, school resource officers will complete mandatory training until the school year begins, Hammonds shared. 

Hammonds further explained that schedules for incoming school resource officers will mirror nine-month schedules for teachers. 

“We set our expectations based on their nine-month teacher schedule when we started hiring people…We scheduled to be on schedule with them,” Hammonds said, referring to teacher work days. 

At the board meeting, member Terry Williams directed the conversation away from coverage during the summer to discuss coverage on mandatory and optional teacher work days. Williams would like to see school resource officers on campuses protecting teachers and administrators on days when students are not on campus. 

Cheeseman and the BOE would like to see the memorandum updated to include an agreed scheduling procedure where school resource officers can be rotated in and out of schools during the summer. This way, schools could receive coverage by an officer while other officers receive training and vice versa. 

“If I know in advance that I’m going to have a school that’s not going to have kids in it for a week or for two weeks can they rotate and shift their SRO,” Cheeseman said, “I think that’s doable, but I also believe that – I don’t think the sheriff was aware of how many schools have kids in it almost every day of the summer and one [student] counts as much as 500.” 

The Board of Education voted to table discussion of the memorandum until it is renegotiated.