HIGH POINT — After several recent closed door meetings, Guilford County school officials and High Point police ironed out some strategies to deal with recent violence and disruptive behavior in local schools.
Police officials said they will work with the courts to crack down more severely on repeat juvenile criminal offenders. School officials plan to talk with High Point colleges and universities about providing an alternate high school for students who struggle in traditional setting.
The strategies come following escalating violence and disruptive behavior at schools across the county.
During the past few weeks, High Point police arrested 10 students in connection with fights at Andrews. Another three students from High Point Central High School were charged this week in connection with a hit list threatening students and teachers. On Dec. 6, about 200 students left Andrews for fear of rumors of more violence.
“We still differ on the magnitude of the problem,” High Point Police Chief Jim Fealy said about the meetings with school officials. “But we all agree it’s a problem.”
Officer Mike Nixon has watched the problems develop inside the schools. Since March, Nixon has worked as a school resource officer at Ferndale Middle School, where students come together from vastly different economic and cultural backgrounds.
“When I first got there, there were kids who wanted to try me, see how far they could go with me,” said Nixon, who has more than 19 years experience with the police department. “The first time you put your hands on a kid and have to arrest them, word spreads fast.”
Nixon said he took the job for the steady hours so he could spend more time with his family.
Police officials in High Point and Greensboro said despite the benefits of the job, such as steady hours and more freedom for officers to work independently, it is getting difficult to find officers such as Nixon who want to take a job in the schools.
“It was once a sought-after position,” Fealy said. “But now, officers just aren’t applying.”
Fealy said the city’s six school resource officers are asked to “serve two masters.” Their primary duty is to enforce the law and work for the city. But they also have to work with school administrators who follow guidelines and standards set by the Guilford County Schools.
Greensboro police echo High Point concerns with finding SROs and said the job’s challenges and demands may deter some officers from applying.
“Some things are cut and dried as far as me pursuing charges,” Nixon said. “Other times, you need to sit down with school administrators and figure out who handles what.”
Guilford County Schools Superintendent Terry Grier and High Point high school principals also asked officers at the beginning of the school year to be more proactive with students. Grier said the officers need to develop relationships with students through mentoring and counseling.
But Nixon said while he is expected to be a role model for the students, he isn’t always there to be their “friend.”
“I have to come in as an authority figure and a police officer,” Nixon said. “When they get comfortable with that, they can come to me.”
Fealy said one of the ways to reduce some of the challenges with behavior in the schools is to target the small handful of students who repeatedly commit criminal acts in the schools.
“Instead of hammering down on the schools, we need to show the repeat offenders greater attention,” Fealy said.
He said he plans to talk with the district attorney’s office and the juvenile courts about treating repeat offenders more severely. He said the city also needs to provide these students with other options and resources to change their behavior.
High Point already uses similar enforcement strategies with adult repeat offenders.
Grier said one of the options for some students may be creating an alternate high school in High Point.
“A lot of students don’t fit into the traditional high school environment,” he said. “But if these kids with troubled backgrounds are in a different setting, they can go to get their education and be successful.”
The school system already offers several alternative high schools with small class sizes, more structure and more one-to-one work with teachers and counselors in Greensboro. About 100 high school juniors and seniors attend a middle college at Greensboro College. There also are options for female high school students at Bennett College and for male high school students at N.C. A&T.
Grier said the county has seen few incidents of violence and disruptive behavior at these schools, which are set on college campuses.
Both Grier and Fealy said they are talking with High Point University and GTCC in High Point about creating a site within the city. Grier said he plans to meet with High Point University officials early next year.
Nixon said despite the recent disruptions in schools, he wants to continue working as an officer inside the schools.
“With everything that has been going on lately, everyone at the school says they feel more comfortable having a police officer there to handle the situations,” Nixon said.
Contact Sue Schultz at 883-4422 Ext. 232 or firstname.lastname@example.org