By Ron Barry
Just days after handling a threat directed toward one of its schools, the Crockett County Board of Education and the Sheriff’s Department have developed and adopted a policy manual, signed a memorandum of understanding, and finalized a School Resource Officer Oversight Board.
The previous Monday night, although it was unable to come to a majority vote on including SROs in the Fiscal Year 2023 budget, the County Commission came to an understanding with Mayor Gary Reasons that he would begin pursuing funding sources to begin an SRO program, perhaps by initiating a user fee for those utilizing the County’s four convenience center waste sites.
The very next night (August 30), an anonymous tip indicated that a digital future threat was issued toward Crockett County High School. The Crockett County Schools Central Office immediately began collaborating with Sheriff Troy Klyce, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the Homeland Security Department to “find and eliminate the possible threat,” according to Director of Schools Phillip A. Pratt.
As a precaution, a collaborative decision was made to increase security protocols at the high school, including the presence of law enforcement officers, and the other County schools were placed in a temporary lockdown Wednesday morning. School remained in session in all seven county schools (including Alamo City School and Bells Elementary School), and as the day continued, there were no weapons found in or around the high school; no students were found to be in possession of a weapon; and no students were individually under investigation at all, despite false information posted on social media. [For a viewpoint on the posts made on Facebook, see Ron Barry’s “Reasonings” column on Page 3.]
Both Klyce and Pratt issued statements later in the day, trying to thwart the flood of misinformation that was circulating.
“We do not believe this threat originated within Crockett County, nor do we believe it was made by a citizen of our county,” Klyce said. “Director Pratt and all the staff members are to be commended for the excellent and professional way they have handled this disruption in the learning environment. They do an incredible job educating our children and are thrown into situations like these. Our educators always rise to the challenge they face and we appreciate them very much.”
While many of the Facebook posters were blaming everyone from the County Commission to some falsely accused students, both Klyce and Pratt had strong words for them.
“If you are looking for someone to blame in a situation like this, blame the person who made the threat,” Klyce said. “We will not sit idly by and let people disrupt our community or our schools. We will find you and prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law. Furthermore, circulating pictures of students and creating your own rumors is not helping and only multiplies the problems we are trying to overcome. This was a criminal matter and the communication about thios situation is our responsibility.”
“All threats made to our schools and students are taken very seriously,” Pratt said. “We have safety equipment and protocols that were put in place to ensure all students and staff are protected to the greatest extent of our abilities. The false reporting and speculation made by some of our students and Facebook friends made the situation quickly escalate. There was never a gun or an identified threat on our campus at any time.”
While both Klyce and Pratt said the investigation is ongoing, and therefore public information on it must remain somewhat limited, they moved quickly to further the plan in place should the County find a way to fund the SRO program that most citizens say they want, but commissioners aren’t sure they (the citizens) are actually ready to pay for.
“We have been meeting with school officials to give life to this program for several months now,” Klyce said, alluding to the finalization of the SRO Oversight Board as a key step. “The SRO Oversight Board will be responsible for fielding applicants, accepting applications, conducting interviews, overseeing onboarding, and providing SRO training to the new hires.”
At press time, neither the Sheriff nor the Board of Education had released the names of the Oversight Board members.
Pratt maintains that, in the interim, the schools have an effective plan in working with local law enforcement to keep students and teachers safe.
“The school administrators, along with the Sheriff’s Department, will periodically continue to use our equipment throughout the year to deter potential threats in the future,” Pratt said. “As in any program, we will evaluate our procedures and protocols and make adjustments to our safety plans as needed.” He thanked all involved in handling this threat “for their diligence in following our safety protocols and providing protection for our most valuable assets, the students.”
Klyce echoed his appreciation for the cooperative effort between the school system and law enforcement officers.
“We have worked very well together for years and look forward to continuing our long-standing partnership of service and safety,” he said. “Crockett County always rises to the occasion to overcome whatever issues are before us, and this is no different. At the end of the day, we all want the same thing.”
In the coming weeks, The Crockett County Times will be sharing our research on national trends with SROs and developments in other communities.