Concerns over increasing behavioral issues with students in the Ruthven-Ayrshire Community School district have prompted the school board to implement a new program following action at last week's board meeting. Through the program, a Palo Alto County Sheriff's deputy will be spending several hours each week in the building, visiting with students and being present and seen.
The creation of the School Resource Officer program was prompted by concerns expressed by RA Superintendent Norene Bunt in a presentation to the board at the Nov. 14 meeting.
"We are concerned about our sixth through 12th grade students' behavior and its impact on teaching, learning and their development as productive, responsible citizens," Bunt said. "It appears that some students don't seem to understand the consequences of their behavior or how serious continuing their behavior could be."
To make her point, Dr. Bunt presented the board members with a listing of 14 incidents involving eight RA students, currently in grades six through 12, which have been referred to the Juvenile Court Services since the end of the summer. There was one case of simple assault, a case of simple harassment, a case of driving while revoked, and one charge of Criminal Mischief in the Third Degree. But, the list also included five cases of Possession of Alcohol, a first offense, along with a second offense of Possession of Alcohol, and a third offense Possession of Alcohol.
Dr. Bunt also noted that there was one charge for Possession of Tobacco, a charge of Serious Assault, and one charge of Possession of Drugs and/or Drug Paraphernalia.
"Every time an underage student is referred to Juvenile Court Services, I receive an e-mail notification," Dr. Bunt explained. "I've gotten 14 notices so far this school year. This is not typical for a school our size."
The Superintendent paused a moment, "and, we are aware that two or three students have also been pressured to sell prescription medication, like Ritalin, to other students."
RA Principal Jon Josephson added that another reason to consider the idea of a School Resource Officer was to address a general disregard for rules and a lack of respect for authority among students in the district. "We're aware of numerous situations where students have left class and/or the school during the school day to ride around town, smoke in the parking lot or smoke at home."
Palo Alto County Sheriff's Deputy Ted Foxhoven, who had stopped at the meeting earlier in the evening, had agreed to step into the role to assist the RA district get a handle on the behavior issues. Foxhoven a deputy sheriff since 2003 has already begun to serve in the district, meeting with various students, after obtaining parental permission, over the past two weeks on roughly six occasions.
"You have good kids here," Foxhoven told the board, "Some of them need a little guidance and direction. "I think we can turn some of them around."
As proposed by the Superintendent, Foxhoven, as the SRO, would keep in touch with students who have been in trouble, meet with students who are struggling with issues, provide presentations to groups of students about pertinent issues, arrange drug dog walkthroughs, and walk through the school building and its back parking lot to identify problems or misconduct by students or non-students.
"I've only been here between four and 10 hours a week, and that's not a lot of time, but any time with the kids is good," Foxhoven said.
"I would not like him walking the halls all day every day looking for someone to step out of line," board member Tracey Enderson said. "But, I know there are issues here and if students think they can get by with it they are going to try and get by with it. I guess with all the issues that we've had, I don't mind someone just walking through."
Under Dr. Bunt's proposal, Foxhoven would spend up to six hours per week in the school, at a compensation of $30 per hour. After a member of the public raised a concern, Dr. Bunt assured everyone that before Foxhoven can visit with any youth referred to Juvenile Court Services, he has to receive permission from the youths' parents.
"The parents involved have been supportive of this idea," noted Dr. Bunt. "We've received permission from 10 parents to visit with their students."
As the discussion wound down, Dr. Bunt pointed out that School Resource Officers were becoming more commonplace. "They are getting one up at Armstrong-Ringsted, and Okoboji and Spirit Lake schools also have such positions. I can tell you that from the conversations I've had, the parents have been thankful for this program."
School Board Secretary Regina Reynolds noted that the salary for the deputy would be funded from the district's At-Risk and Student Dropout Prevention funds in the budget.
"I guess I don't have a problem with the program, but I'm just uncomfortable with having our hallways patrolled," noted Board member Katie Meyer.
With that, Grandstaff turned the gavel over to Vice President Susan Sikora and offered the motion to approved the implementation of the School Resource Officer position, for up to six hours per week at a salary of $30 per hour. Board member Barry Fischer offered a second and the motion was approved on a 5-2 vote, with Larry Conlon and Katie Meyer opposing the motion.