The Catoosa County Board of Education recently approved a pilot program that allows one officer to be based at the schools to better oversee students on criminal probation. School and justice officials said there are about 30 students on probation between the two schools.
Ringgold Middle Principal Lamar Brown said keeping students in school is the primary reason hes looking forward to the program although safety is an issue too. He said there are students from his school in court every month for various violations.
We feel like we operate a very safe school, he said. At the same time, in this day and time youve got to be prepared for anything.
Ringgold High Principal Sharon Vaughn said she didnt have an exact count on how many of her students were on probation.
There are more than where I have ever worked before, she said.
Rob Gilstrap, Department of Juvenile Justice juvenile program manager for Catoosa, Chattooga, Dade and Whitfield counties; said the two schools were chosen because the department has a good relationship with them and because there are fewer than 35 students on probation between the two schools. The limit for a probation officer under the program is 35 students.
Officers in the hallways
Catoosa Board of Education member Jane Everett said the board voted unanimously to implement the program after Juvenile Justice officials approached them about doing it.
Its not to catch bad guys but to monitor those kids who need a little extra assistance, she said. Weve been chosen as a pilot which needs to be seen as an honor.
Dee Bell, program coordinator at the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice, said each of the states 13 districts has at least one school-based program. The first ones in Georgia began last spring. Other states have been testing the program for a few years, Bell said.
Gilstrap said the school program will allow probation officers to keep better tabs on those in their charge. Ordinarily, an officer would see his charge one to four times a month. The school programallows them to connect at least once weekly and likely more often, officials said.
We mainly ensure that they are following their court order, Gilstrap said. We are not law enforcement. We just provide court services.
Gilstrap did say that probation officers have the discretion to recommend students stay in after-school programs or get counseling.
Bryce Curry will be assigned to the schools with an office in Ringgold Middle.
Im approaching it with a positive outlook, he said. It does give you an opportunity to be around (the students on probation) more. Sometimes there are problems in the school so those could be addressed in that environment rather than having them come to my office.
Gilstrap said Curry began his duties last week but the details of the program are still being finalized.
Vaughn said she considers the RHS campus relatively safe. Most of the students on probation didnt commit the crimes on school property, she said.
She said administrators crack down harder on students in Catoosa where some schools would let them off or simply kick them out.
I think its to Catoosa Countys credit that when a juvenile gets in trouble, they dont snap their fingers and let them go, she said. We do have large numbers (at RHS) but theyre not large numbers for very serious things.
Catoosa County Sheriff Phil Summers said his department will continue to provide resource officers to the two high schools and three middle schools in the district. That service began about 12 years ago, he said, when students at Lakeview Fort-Oglethorpe High School requested law enforcement presence because their vehicles were being broken into while they were in class.
We immediately saw a reduction in crime and assaults and things of that nature in schools, he said.
Summers said having additional assistance in schools can only help. Although probation officers wont handle routine school discipline problems, Gilstrap said they would be involved any time a student under their supervision faces discipline. According to a memorandum of agreement between the schools and Juvenile Justice, the probation officer should also act as a positive role model for other students in the system.
School resource officer Chris Marcus at Ringgold High School said schools are like mini cities.
Primarily, Im here for safety for everyone and as many kids as weve got, its a full time job, he said.
He said the sheriffs department is beginning a program that will allow drug dogs to periodically conduct searches. The addition of probation officers in schools can only help, he said.
Bell, with the state justice department, said Georgias program began when schools approached them about being more involved.
I certainly wouldnt say these are troubled schools, she said. In some cases, these are some of the best schools in a school district.
None of the schools in Catoosa County are considered dangerous by state standards.
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