In the wake of national and local school shootings, the Ohio legislature has before it a bill to define and strengthen the use of school resource officers. Introduced in August 2017 by Representatives John Patterson and Sarah LaTourette, House Bill 318 seeks to define the qualifications and responsibilities of a school resource officer (“SRO”), prescribe specific training requirements for them and outline appropriate police powers. The bill looks to fill the void in Ohio law where currently there is no specified training for SROs. That means school districts are left to define the relationship and role which could lead to liability issues.
In its current March 2018 form, HB 318 outlines an SRO’s responsibilities: he/she would provide a safe learning environment, foster positive relationships, develop problem resolution strategies, assist schools in adopting, implementing and amending comprehensive school emergency management plans (including required consultation with local law enforcement and first responders), and provide resources to school staff. However, the bill would still confer school discipline authority to the school district and its administrators. There is also a clear theme throughout the bill, recognizing the developmental needs of students and fostering positive relationships. Additionally, House Bill 318:
- Requires 40 hours of specific and specialized training offered by the National or Ohio Association for School Resource Officers. The training includes building security, SRO’s role in discipline, psychological and physiological characteristics of students, developmentally appropriate interview, interrogation, de-escalation and behavior management strategies, skills to be a positive role model for youth, classroom management tools for students (including those with special needs), compulsory attendance laws, drug use identification and prevention, and Ohio Peace Officer Training Commission certification.
- Requires any school district that utilizes SRO services to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the appropriate law enforcement agency. The MOU should clarify the purpose of the SRO program, define background requirements and expertise for SROs, explain professional development, roles, responsibilities and expectations of the parties, outline a protocol for handling suspected criminal activity in comparison to school discipline, specify requirements for coordination and updating of the school crisis plans, and include student input during the development process. The MOU also needs to be posted in a place that is available to the public.
While this legislation develops, school districts would be wise to clearly define the role of their SROs with local agencies and gain the input of legal counsel. Districts should also proactively seek professional development for SROs to improve their breadth of school knowledge, develop strong positive relationships with students, staff and the community, and implement comprehensive safety and crisis plans.