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WATER VALLEY – The Water Valley school board approved the hiring of a second law enforcement officer to help boost security at the campuses. The school district currently contracts with the Water Valley Police Department for the employment of one School Resource Officer (SRO) who works on the campuses from August through May.
At Monday night’s meeting, Superintendent Jerry Williams reported that crisis planning at the school district includes two active shooter drills each school year. He also said the district had an active shooting training last December, an exercise that included participation from first responders from multiple agencies in the county to create a realistic training operation. The superintendent also said teachers will receive training on an active shooter situation on the second day they return to school.
“We have been doing what we need to do, but we need to go a step farther,” Williams explained.
He recommended that the description of the new position include duties both as a school safety officer and SRO.
“This position will be more than a SRO, but it could serve in the purpose of a SRO also,” Williams explained about having an officer assigned to Water Valley High School and another assigned to Davidson Elementary School.
Williams provided an overview of the proposed duties of the new school safety officer that include monthly meetings with the police and sheriff’s departments, ongoing training with teachers in the district and constantly updating the school’s security plan. Williams said the security plan would include input from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
“They will come in and do a risk assessment,” he added.
Williams’ recommendations followed his attendance at a Mississippi Association of Superintendents (MAS) meeting on school security last week.
“We need somebody who is going to be willing to learn all this, meet with Homeland Security. This person is going to need some in-depth training,” Williams added. He also said that the training will mean there are times when school safety officer will attend training and not be on campus.
“Somebody needs to be there all the time,” school board member Rodney Phillips noted about times when the officer would be away from the campus.
“I can talk to the (police) chief. If we have to send the school safety officer to training, we could pay an off-duty officer to come in on those days,” Williams noted.
“I think it will be very comforting as an educator to know I have somebody in my building that I can contact,” Board President Jill Clark noted about having officers at both school every day.
Following the discussion, board members voted unanimously to hire a school safety officer.
Other business discussed at the meeting included:
• Amended the Water Valley High School Parent-Student Handbook for the 2022-2023 school year to prohibit the use of cell phones during instructional time.
“From the time 7:56 a.m. until 3:08, they can’t have them out,” Williams explained about the restrictions. “We have had it in the past where students could use cell phones in the classroom because they didn’t have computers. Everybody has access to a computer all day long, so there is no reason to have them out. They are walking down the hallway with earbuds in. It is also just the privacy of cell phones,” Williams said, citing an example of a student at the elementary school taking pictures in the bathroom.
The superintendent said the amended policy does not prohibit students from having phones at school.
“We are not saying they can’t have them. If we see them in a back pocket, we are not taking their cell phone,” he clarified. “But if a student is walking down the hallway on the phone, or if a teacher looks up and they have their phone out or texting. They are in violation.”
Board members also approved tweaking the discipline for violating the school’s cell phone policy. The penalty for the first infraction is a $25 fine or confiscation of the phone for 10 days. A second offense is a $25 fine or impounding the phone for 20 days.
“This is a good idea, you put them up. We have devices in every single classroom,” Water Valley High School Principal Drew Pitcock told board members. The principal also noted that in prior years where cell phone use was allowed, the district was lagging behind with technology.
“The only thing that I would stress is to make sure this is communicated to parents,” Board member Rhonda Burchett recommended. “You are going to have a steady line of moms and dads coming up here.”
Pitcock said the information about the change will sent home to parents.
“It is new, but I think we need to do away with them,” Williams added before the unanimous vote.
Board members also voted to make the same change prohibiting the use of cell phones during instructional time for the Davidson Elementary School Parent-Student Handbook for the 2022-2023 year.
• Amended the dress codes for the handbooks for the elementary and high school to eliminate references to gender.
“We talked about the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) and the dress code issue,” Williams reminded school board members. He said the existing dress code included a line-by-line description of what dress code regulations.
“If you read through them, they looked like they addressed more a female than they did a male. So we eliminated those, and we have a universal statement in there about what you should wear,” Williams said about the change in the handbooks.
Board members adopted the change unanimously.