The Libby levy vote: Part two Mentoring and student safety

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Part one: A closer look at the school resource officer question

Part three: Prevention vs. reaction

The role of a school resource officer in at Libby Public Schools would include student safety, but that would mean more than being an “armed guard,” according to public officials.

“They’ve got to be proactive, engaged and preventative,” said Libby Police Chief Scott Kessel. “In other words, you’re going to identify issues before they turn into a crisis.”

Kessel said that can mean being aware of bullying that happens, and dealing with it before it escalates, both with the bully and the victim.

But, whether dealing with someone being picked on at school or things such as drug use, the goal isn’t to find ways to punish the students, he said.

“The goal of the SRO is to make that school a safer workplace for the faculty, a safer learning environments for the students, without those distractions,” he said.

Kessel said that the resource officer would be more focused on education and guidance, but with the authority of an officer if needed.

“I see the role as a mentor,” Kessel said.

Libby Public Schools Superintendent Craig Barringer said that having a resource officer can make the schools healthier.

“Because like, like Scott said, we may not prevent those behaviors, but we can prevent them from happening at school,” Barringer said.

An officer will also bring a different skill set to the situation that educators may not have, Barringer said.

“A lot of times, what we see with our younger kids, they don’t even realize they’re bullies,” he said.

An officer can help to not only identify bullying in early stages, but help to guide a child away from that path, he said.

“We know, the type of behaviors that bullies exhibit, or the type of behaviors that lead to future issues with the law enforcement. They’re more likely to be in jail. They’re more likely to abuse their spouse,” he said. “Having the skill set that they have can help prevent that bully from ever escalating.”

Kessel said teachers already have a lot on their plates, and a resource officer can help alleviate some of the added burden.

Teachers do a wonderful job of being jacks of all trades,” he said. “This will help give them a tool so they can focus more on the educational aspect.”

The resource officer is meant to have a direct role in the lives of students. Those relationships the officer builds can lead to positive changes in the lives of students even when they aren’t at the school.

The officer’s connection to law enforcement allows them to be more aware of outside factors that can lead to negative behaviors, such as issues within their home lives, Kessel said.

The officer can also continue to be a positive influence in a student’s life even during the summer or over holidays, when school isn’t in session, he said.

And that interaction can also help children to have better future interactions with police in general, seeing law enforcement as a resource rather than in an adversarial way.

“If you get the right person, the impact they would have on some of our most at risk children is immeasurable,” Barringer said.

The resource officer can also work with the faculty and figure out what is best for the student when addressing behaviors, Kessel said.

Barringer said that the Havre School District experienced decreased behavioral problems both in and out of school since their program started.

“I think one of the bigger reasons schools are looking for school resource officers is the growing number of kids that come to school in crisis,” Barringer said.

“It’s another expert, helping a kid manage a life that they didn’t, sometimes, ask for,” he said.

On Tuesday, June 18, residents in the Libby School District will vote for or against a levy to fund a school resource officer. The Western News will is presenting a series of articles taking a more in-depth look at what that means.

Residents with questions are encouraged to reach out to either Craig Barringer at 406-293-811 or barringerc@libbyschools.org, or to Scott Kessel at 406-293-3343 or skessel@libbypd.org.

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