Stakeholders involved with educating today’s youth do not want another school tragedy or shooting. Students, parents, teachers, and public and private school administrators place school safety at the top of their daily responsibility list. Years ago when asked, “What is your primary focus?” principals would provide answers relating to curriculum development and academic achievement. Today, any school administrator’s response is, “Keeping kids safe.”
A recent school-based policing study in Maine conducted by the University of Southern Maine’s Cutler Institute for Health and Social Policy noted, “You are putting a law enforcement official into an environment … that is different than the environment in which they are trained.” The study reinforced the importance of continuing education that focuses on areas of child and adolescent development, students’ legal rights, working with children with special needs, and appropriate intervention strategies.
The National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO), a nonprofit organization based in Birmingham, AL, is leading the international charge for school safety. Paul Marino, a lawyer and founder of the organization—along with several other practicing school resource officers (SROs)—developed the idea of having an association that fostered professional development and best-practice training for sworn police officers working in schools starting in 1991. With just $500 in startup money, Marino was charged with forming the organization, drafting its mission and paperwork, providing legal direction, and garnering national curriculum input and support. Although he recently retired, Marino got to witness this process as it grew into an association that affects school safety around the world.
Today, NASRO offers six classes designed to meet the needs of school resource officers working in schools. Officers can choose from the following courses: Basic SRO, Advanced SRO, SRO Supervisors and Management, School Security Officer course, School Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design, and Adolescent Mental Health Training for School Resource Officers and Educators. While the courses are developed and presented for law enforcement professionals, anyone who works with youth today can greatly benefit from many of the courses, particularly the Basic SRO and Adolescent Mental Health Training (AMHT) courses.
The Basic SRO course is a five-day, 40-hour training that directs law enforcement to educate, counsel, and protect our school communities. The men and women of NASRO continue to lead by example and promote a positive image of law enforcement to youth.
Tools for SROs and Educators
After the Basic SRO course, many attendees do the follow-up three-day Advanced SRO training course offered by NASRO. Topics addressed in both the Basic and Advanced SRO courses cover ethics, students with special needs and IEPs, social media and cyber safety, understanding the teen brain, sex trafficking of youth, school law, youth trends and drugs, emergency operations plans, threat response, and developing successful relationships with diverse students.
Some states, such as Pennsylvania, have found the courses so important that governing entities have passed legislation mandating that all professional employees charged with law enforcement in schools take NASRO’s Basic SRO course. School security officers (SSOs) as well as sworn police officers are required to complete the course within a six-month window as of September 2019.
The three-day School Security Officer course focuses on working effectively with students with an emphasis on emergency planning and school safety while functioning as a security officer in the school setting. Or, officers can take it a step further and enroll in the three-day SRO Supervisors and Management course that is designed for those charged with managing and supervising SROs in a school district. The goal of this course is to provide managers with information, skills, and strategies to develop, coordinate, and maintain a successful SRO program in their school communities.
Mental Health Course Applicable to All
In 2018, NASRO partnered with the National Center for Youth Opportunity and Justice and launched the AMHT course for SROs and professionals working with youth. In light of recent high-profile school shootings and other instances of school violence, many school communities have sought the help of law enforcement to promote school safety and protect students. It’s essential that SROs receive training that links the traditional roles and responsibilities of law enforcement to skills and concepts around adolescent development, mental health, and crisis intervention to improve outcomes for youth. In fact, this 12-hour course has become an integral part of Wisconsin’s Department of Justice School Safety Grants. School districts that applied for and received the Wisconsin Act 143 School Safety Grant are required to send 10 percent of their certified staff to AMHT.
There’s obviously demand for these types of programs. In 2018, NASRO taught 28 AMHT courses and trained 871 attendees. As of September 2019, the group has taught 75 classes and trained 3,167 people! Teachers attending the classes share remarks such as “I finally understand how the SRO can be a partner with us” and “The tabletop scenarios help us think about age-appropriate responses that keep in mind everyone’s safety until our SRO arrives.”
SROs have also responded positively, as one remarked, “I was able to get to know my school’s teachers better and hopefully show them that I am there for everyone’s safety.” The main focus of AMHT is understanding adolescent development, adolescent mental health conditions and treatments, crisis intervention and deescalation techniques, while discussing how to connect to community resources and the family experience.
Another course that focuses on all aspects that affect school safety is the Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) course, which uses design, management, and activity strategies to reduce opportunities for crimes to occur. The three-day course emphasizes the relationship of the physical environment, the productive use of space, and the behavior of people.
Interest in this type of training is gaining significantly. The number of Basic SRO courses taught has grown exponentially over the past decade. In 2011, NASRO taught 26 Basic SRO courses and coached 563 practicing SROs. In 2015, the group taught 56 classes and trained 1,244 SROs. Just three years later, NASRO facilitated 81 classes and trained 2,273 SROs.
NASRO is pleased that national studies support practices that are aligned with the association’s mission, belief, curricula, and fundamental operating foundations, so much so that Phil Keith, director of community-oriented policing services—a component of the U.S. Department of Justice—referred to NASRO as the “gold star of training police officers for school.” To see what workshops might be available in your area for your SROs, visit www.nasro.org and look for “Upcoming Events” on the left side of the homepage.
Wayne Smith is a curriculum specialist for the National Association of School Resource Officers. He is also a retired middle level teacher, principal, and director of student services.
Sidebar: National School Safety Conference
When your SROs attend the National School Safety Conference—held July 5–10 in Dallas—they help promote safer schools and safer kids. More information regarding NASRO’s mission and training offered can be found at www.nasro.org or by calling 888-316-2776 or 205-739-6060. Support your SROs and encourage them to register today!