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TV program examines Bossier schools safety

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A school resource officer waves at a car outside T.L. Rodes Elementary in Haughton. (Courtesy of the Bossier Parish Sheriff’s Office)

The school shooting in Broward County Florida that took the lives of 17 people has reignited a national debate over gun control and ways to make schools safer.

Where does Louisiana stand in the debate? That was the focal point of a recent episode of a Louisiana Public Square episode entitled ‘Making Schools Safe.’

The show, televised March 28 on LPB, highlighted Bossier’s School Resource Officer program and included interviews with Bossier Schools Superintendent Scott Smith, Bossier Sheriff Julian Whittington and Lt. Adam Johnson, Director of Security for Bossier Parish Schools.

Bossier is ahead when it comes to school security as one of only two parishes in the state that has armed officers on school grounds. Rapides Parish schools have an SRO program that is funded by a voter approved half-cent sales tax.

There are 35 School Resource Officers on the 34 Bossier Schools campuses. Airline High School, Bossier’s largest school, has two SROs.

The cost of Bossier’s SRO program is about $3.6 million, Superintendent Smith said in the LPB special. While some question the cost and effectiveness, SROs are a visible law enforcement presence on campus to deter, prevent and respond to crime, working closely with administrators on law-related matters, assisting with school safety needs and serving as vital links to other emergency personnel during critical incidents.

“We’ve been very successful with it,” Lt. Johnson said. “They are an intricate part of the education environment. They are the first line of defense when a criminal act occurs.”

Johnson said he has been contacted by other law enforcement agencies around the country, most recently being Alabama, about Bossier’s SRO program.

“I’ve received numerous calls requesting information on how we do what we do in Bossier,” Johnson explained. “They’ve inquired about everything from our [safety] plans to how SROs function in the school environment.”

This week, the Bossier Parish school board will discuss adding additional SROs to high schools and an early warning system for at risk students. Both topics were on the agenda for Tuesday afternoon’s audit and security committee meeting. Information from that meeting was not available by press time Monday morning.

If any part of Tuesday’s committee meeting requires a vote by the full board, it will be done at their April 5 regular meeting.

Bossier Schools formed a focus group to discuss things that Bossier is doing right and things that could be improved when it comes to security and school safety. Adding more SROs was something that came from a discussion within that group.

Johnson declined to comment on the matter, though, deferring them to later in the week depending on any action taken by the school board April 5.

At the state level, the Louisiana School Board Association has asked lawmakers for an increase of 70-million-dollars to provide better school security and increase safety measures. Specifically, the LSBA would like a 2.75 percent increase in the Minimum Foundation Program, which provides state aid to public schools.

Even if the request is not granted, LSBA Executive Director Scott Richard says it’s a good time for schools to look over protocols currently in use.

There are also several bills being considered during the current legislative session. Those include banning the sale of assault rifles, allowing students to wear bulletproof backpacks, and allowing teachers to conceal carry firearms.

The Valentine’s Day massacre in Parkland, FL is a harsh reminder that no school or community is immune to unimaginable violence. Although it played out more than a thousand miles away, Bossier Parish officials didn’t ignore the tragedy.

Bossier continues to take a proactive, not reactive, approach. Schools are mandated to have crisis lockdown drills twice a year (once in the fall and once in the spring).

“That’s our protocol in Bossier Parish,” Johnson said. “We practice for these things and we will continue to prepare for this. These SROs are our boots on the ground inside these schools. They are tactically trained to face the threat when that bad day comes.”

Johnson said the most important thing a student or parent can do if they see disturbing images or threatening comments on social media is to speak up.

“If you see something, say something,” he said. “Tell somebody. Let us know. Don’t just sit on it and not tell anyone about it.”