School Board meeting addresses need for School Resource Officer plus Student Instructional Calendar

By MAGGI HENRIKSON

The School Board meeting of July 17 included a presentation by Laguna Beach Police Department (LBPD) Chief of Police Laura Farinella, during which she presented a memorandum of understanding between LBPD and the Laguna Beach Unified School District to provide a School Resource Officer (SRO).

The meeting also addressed the prickly issue of changes to the Student Instructional Calendar.

School Resource Officer

In an effort to further promote safety for our schools, the Laguna Beach Police Department is developing a School Resource Officer program that will seek to develop and enhance rapport between youth, police officers, school administrators, and parents. LBPD would assign one full-time law enforcement officer to serve as the SRO during the regular school year. The SRO would be employed and retained by LBPD and school site principals would confer with the SRO to develop plans and strategies for improving safety on each Laguna Beach school campus, while adjustments to the program can be made throughout the school year.

The public comments included some in favor of an SRO officer on campus for safety reasons, and some opposed, fearing that this presence would only escalate problems such as altercations between students, and could mean backpack searches for contraband.

school board grounds

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

SRO will be trained to de-escalate situations when conflict occurs on school grounds

Chief Farinella stated at the meeting that it’s not about law enforcement, unless behavior is merited. Any enforcement would be in coordination with the school principal.

“It’s not enforcement; it’s education, it’s guidance, it’s prevention, intervention,” she said. “It’s all of those things, so it’s not about going through backpacks, putting the canine through the school, that is not what it’s about. We want [that person] to be a mentor and teacher.” 

There is training along guidelines from the School Resource Officer association including understanding education codes and social media issues. 

The chief further described the SRO methodology, “When kids have altercations, [and are] emotionally upset, the officers have de-escalation techniques.”

SRO would rotate among schools

LBPD would rotate the officer to all schools, most likely starting at the high school “and navigate around to the other schools throughout the day.” It might be El Morro one day, TOW the next. “Maybe opening car doors in the morning at one school, at lunch at a different school.” 

The chief clarified that there is no money exchange between the school district and the SRO. “We just want your approval to be embedded and woven into the fabric of the school system,” she said.

Chief Farinella stated that the effectiveness of the program would be reviewed after a year. “I would love to come back after a year and report, ‘these were the contacts, these were the issues’ – to quantify the success and also qualify, like ‘yes, we feel like there’s a sounding board for issues.’”

The Board is expected to vote on the agreement at the upcoming August 21 meeting. If approved, it would take effect by the fall and would last until August 2021.

Student Instructional Calendar

Also at the July 17 Board meeting, staff presented revisions to the proposed 2019-20 student instructional calendar per Board direction from the June 19 Special Board meeting; the presentation included projected start and end dates for future years through 2022-2023. At the direction of the Board, staff will bring forward alternate start and end dates for future years to the August 21 Board meeting as an information item. 

Leisa Winston, Assistant Superintendent, Human Resources and Public Communications said, “To recap what we’ve done so far, over the last year our committee met to survey assumptions, review data, study the issue, and they developed the recommended restructure of the 2019-2020 school year.” 

After subsequent Board meetings (April 12, June 19), community input, and survey results, the committee identified its revised priorities for the school year.

The top three factors identified in the committee’s survey results for the new curriculum calendar were, for those who supported the committee’s recommendation: that the semester end at winter break, that there would be increased test preparation, and that the Monday and Tuesday of Thanksgiving week be off. For those who opposed the committee’s recommendation, they cited family vacations, traffic, and empty beaches as issues.

The committee’s revised recommendations have, thus, identified six factors of change in the 2019-20 instructional calendar: 180 school days, no change to Thanksgiving week (school in session on Monday and Tuesday), two district-wide non-student days (January and March), starting approximately one week earlier on August 26, finals ending before winter break, and the school year ending June 11.

For more information, the revisions to the proposed student instructional calendar may be seen here.