Board of Education approves signing MOU with sheriff’s office

Published 4:20 pm Thursday, May 23, 2024

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The Beaufort County Board of Education voted unanimously to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the school system and Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office. They are one step closer to finalizing the return of 12 deputies to campuses across the county. 

The vote was taken during their regular meeting on Tuesday, May 21. 

A Memorandum of Understanding is a non-binding agreement between two entities that outlines intentions and expectations of each entity. The MOU between the school district and sheriff’s office outlines the responsibilities of the sheriff’s office and 12 deputies to serve and protect students, school faculty, administration and staff in their capacity as School Resource Officers (SRO). 

Earlier this month, the Board of Education was hesitant to sign a MOU, because some members felt the document did not clearly define when SROs would be on campus during teacher work days and summer athletic events.  

Both Superintendent of Beaufort County Schools, Dr. Matthew Cheeseman and Sheriff Scott Hammonds said that concern has been addressed and agreed upon. 

SROs will be present during the school calendar year and mandatory teacher work days, but not optional work days. They will also be present during summer school. This year, John Small Elementary is the only site where summer learning will take place. 

In discussing coverage for school orientations, band practices, sports and other similar events, members on the Board of Education were concerned that it may not happen given how the MOU was initially written. The board and the sheriff’s office agreed that coverage may be possible if enough personnel is available. If a SRO cannot provide coverage for the entirety of an event or at all, they would rotate coverage with other SROs, Cheeseman said. 

“With the concern of kids coming on campus in grades six through 12 for sports and school orientation and band practice and more, our Board had initial concerns that we would be uncovered,” Cheeseman said, “but they ultimately came to an agreement that they may cover those if in fact they have enough personnel to do so, but would definitely do a rotational basis where officers will come on campus, do rounds even if they couldn’t stay, they would step off. But, there would be a type of presence in a rotation.” 

The school district and sheriff’s office wrote a MOU rather than a legally binding contract, because they are two organizations that are funded through the Board of Beaufort County Commissioners, Cheeseman speculated. Too, it is a standard practice in Beaufort County for the school district and sheriff’s office to sign a MOU. 

Cheeseman continued to say that he is excited to see deputies return to school campuses. Hammonds said he is proud of the dedication and effort that’s been shown to achieve this goal which has been three years in the making. 

In January of 2021, then Sheriff Ernie Coleman sent a letter to county commissioners detailing a termination of a MOU between the sheriff’s office and the school district. Coleman cited budgetary constraints from the previous year as a reason why a termination letter was written. 

The school district entered a three-year contract with a third-party safety and security company that would provide school resource officers in the interim.