Fluvanna wins grants for school security officers

By Heather Michon

Fluvanna County High School could be getting some additional security support this upcoming academic year thanks to $100,000 in grant funding for two school security officers, or SSOs.

Captain Von Hill of the Fluvanna County Sheriff’s Office gave a detailed presentation on the role of SSOs at the School Board’s monthly meeting on Wednesday (July 12).

“School security officers are not law enforcement,” said Hill. Unlike school resource officers (SROs), these will be employees of the school system, not the sheriff’s office. They will not be armed.

Hill said SSOs will add extra eyes and ears to the campus during the school day, patrolling the hallways, checking bathrooms, exit doors, and lockers, and responding to “any type of security issue” if or when they arise.

This will help free up time for SROs and guidance staff to deal with those children who need a little more time and counseling. 

SSOs can also be a source of support for students in moments of emotional crisis. 

“If that means they need some time to clear their heads or walk around and get a breath of air or just listen to what their needs are, there’s an extra person to do that,” said Hill. 

While the positions have not yet been posted, Hill said retired police officers or other people with a security background might be the best fit for the job. He believed they could find candidates and get them trained and certified in time for the start of the school year in August. The grant covering the program is renewable annually for up to four years.

Hill’s presentation turned into a broader discussion of school discipline after Hill mentioned the SROs hadn’t made an on-campus arrest in the past two years.

Asked by Andrew Pullen (Columbia District) if this was something to be proud of given some violent altercations between students on the FCHS campus in recent years, Hill clarified that some students that engaged in violent assaults had certainly faced legal action following investigations. 

Rather than go immediately to criminal charges, Hill said the 12-month statute of limitations can be leveraged to give them the ability “to follow through with doing some of the restorative things, the same restorative things that likely they would get out of the court.” 

If that proved unsuccessful, there was still an opportunity to refer them to the juvenile courts for charges.

Chair James Kelley (Palmyra) said that not having arrests in the schools was on balance a good thing. 

“People need to be held responsible for their actions whether or not they’re juveniles,” he said, but there shouldn’t be a perception that school law enforcement was creating a “school-to-prison pipeline.”

Virginia already leads the nation in terms of school safety and low rates of juvenile arrest, Hill said, and there was ample evidence that these types of programs were effective with students. “It’s not that they don’t get consequences, because there are consequences. But it gives them the opportunity to learn what their role is regarding those consequences.” 

Hill said his department was proud to be partners in collaboration with the school district.

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