Gov. Edwards Repeats Call for Officers in Every School, but Still Sizing up the Need, Expense

A 19-member commission is in the midst of surveying and evaluating the safety measures currently in place at every public school in Louisiana.

by Charles Lussier, The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La. / August 8, 2018

(TNS) - With a new school year beginning, Gov. John Bel Edwards on Tuesday reiterated his call to place a trained officer in every Louisiana school, but added he’s still waiting for all schools to report back to him how many they might need.

“To make that a reality, I have to have the information,” Edwards said, speaking in the library at McKinley High School in Baton Rouge.

Edwards gathered at this historic high school just north of LSU with members of a Blue Ribbon Commission on School Safety that he formed in the wake of the Feb. 14 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 dead.

The 19-member commission is in the midst of surveying and evaluating the safety measures currently in place at every public school in the state as well as some private and parochial schools that have agreed to participate. The governor said that almost all the public high schools have been assessed for safety, with middle and elementary schools coming next.

“We know that there are no simple answers, but our job is to do all that we can within our power to keep our children safe as they return to school and as they attend school throughout the year,” Edwards said.

Edwards first announced his desire to have a school resource officer in every school in April, saying he preferred the idea to arming teaching.

It’s a potential expensive idea. Within a month of the tragedy in Parkland, the Florida Legislature mandated that every public school in that state have a trained officer in every school, setting aside $162 million for the expense. Still it was less than half of the estimated cost.

McKinley High is poised to take its own small step down this road.

New Baton Rouge Police Chief Murphy Paul and East Baton Rouge Parish Superintendent Warren Drake have been talking throughout the summer about training one of Paul’s officers to become a school resource officer for the high school of more than 1,200 students.

Paul and Drake said Tuesday they are nearing signing an agreement; Drake said he first wants to brief the parish School Board. Paul said he has two officers currently undergoing school resource officer training, one of whom is likely to be assigned to McKinley High.

Drake identified McKinley High early on as a place to pilot this idea since its 800 E. McKinley St. home is five blocks from a Baton Rouge police station.

It will be a modest change. The parish school system now hires off-duty sheriff’s deputies to handle school security at a cost of about $2.1 million a year. Every middle and high school has an assigned deputy during the day, but the same individual isn't always assigned to the same school daily, something Drake would like to change.

School security is also the justification for other recent changes at McKinley High.

McKinley is one of four Baton Rouge public schools receiving late-in-the-summer changes to their entry areas in part to limit outside access.

This past weekend, workers erected a black chain-link fence in front of the library and the cafeteria that motorists see along East McKinley. There are still gaps in the fence that need to be plugged with gates. The idea is to prevent students, who often congregate there, from mixing with visitors. Visitors will be directed into the school library. A small wooden pavilion is being built down the hall next to the tennis courts for students to congregate at instead.

Esrom Pitre, who took over as McKinley High’s principal a month ago, inheriting the recent facility changes, acknowledged that he’s received a number of phone calls in recent days from alumni concerned that the new fence might make the high school feel more like a prison; however, Pitre said school security is important. He said he plans soon to send out something to the McKinley community explaining the changes.


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