Review this decision now

Published 9:47 pm Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Suffolk Public Schools learned late in the budget process earlier this year that it would receive money — more than half a million dollars — beyond what it budgeted.

The news came only months after a highly publicized school shooting killed 17 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., on Feb. 14. With that at the center of public discourse, using the funds on additional safety measures was an easy sell and seemed to be widely supported in the community.

But we can’t support the way the school division has gone about spending that money on safety, for a number of reasons.

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Suffolk Public Schools has spent and will be spending the money to hire, train, equip and pay salaries and benefits for 24 full-time safety monitors.

The safety monitors are not armed and received only three days of training before they started their duties, according to reporting by News-Herald reporter Kellie Adamson. Two of those days came from the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services’ Center for School and Campus Safety and covered topics like incident response, problem-solving strategies, bullying and more.

We have no reason to believe that the safety monitors who have been hired will not do their jobs to the best of their ability, combined with the training they have received and the equipment they are permitted to carry. And we recognize that the presence of a trained, armed law enforcement officer wouldn’t necessarily prevent every possible dangerous incident within the schools.

However, we believe more fully trained and armed law enforcement officers would be best and were likely what most folks had in mind when they supported the idea of spending the extra money on safety.

We were shocked to learn that the school division turned down a proposal from the Suffolk Sheriff’s Office that would have provided better trained, armed law enforcement officers for less money.

In addition to the quality of people hired, the timeline in Adamson’s story raises questions about how quickly the school division rushed into making this decision and hiring these safety monitors.

The funds were appropriated by City Council at the Aug. 1 meeting. During that meeting, division Superintendent Dr. Deran Whitney said he would be willing to present the idea of using the Sheriff’s Office’s proposal to the School Board.

But in fact, the first safety monitor was hired more than a month earlier, on June 25. Whitney hadn’t even submitted a letter asking for the appropriation of funds until July 9, and he did not bring up the topic with the School Board until Sept. 20, where he defended the use of safety monitors rather than present the Sheriff’s Office proposal.

Due to the discrepancy in training, the potential cost savings and the appearance that this was a rushed decision, we believe Suffolk Public Schools should immediately begin investigating the plausibility of bringing in trained, armed law enforcement officers to fill these positions. We expect due diligence without any foot-dragging.

The safety of students and staff in Suffolk Public Schools depends on it.