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School Resource Officer

School Resource Officer Megan Nelson speaks with a student under the J Street bridge over Antelope Creek during the lunch hour at Lincoln High School in May 2018. 

The process city and Lincoln Public Schools officials have devised to evaluate the school resource officer program is one of the most extensive in the country, according to a police officer who has worked for months to develop the system.

Lincoln Police Officer Luke Bonkiewicz said he checked with police departments of similar size and demographics about their practices when researching how Lincoln should evaluate school resource officers in middle and high school.

They differed quite a bit, but they took some ideas and built on them to create an evaluation with more depth than most, he said. 

“I really feel strongly that this is one of the best in the United States,” he said.

On Thursday the board that governs the interlocal agreement — approved last spring between the city and LPS to improve school safety — was briefed on the evaluation process and will vote on it at the April 18 meeting.

A portion of the $1.05 million contributed to the interlocal by both LPS and the city was used to add six school resource officers to 12 middle schools — the most controversial of the interlocal initiatives. Officers have been assigned to the high schools for years.

Supporters advocated for officers at middle schools as a way to improve security; opponents argued having officers in schools contributes to “school to prison” pipeline by criminalizing what should be handled by school discipline procedures, especially for students of color and other marginalized groups.

The debate resulted in a memorandum of understanding that, among other things, requires training for officers and educators, and an annual evaluation of the program.

Bonkiewicz and Leslie Eastman, the LPS assessment and evaluation director, said the evaluation will include five-year trends, which involves going back to 2015 to collect the same data that will be looked at going forward.

In a nutshell, the evaluation will track all police calls for service to schools — and what happens with those interactions with middle and high school students.

It will track what the calls are for, how often certain incidents occur and how many of them end with a ticket, which for juveniles means the case is referred to juvenile court prosecutors to decide whether to file a case in court.

Of those sent to juvenile court, the process will track how many go to pretrial diversion or more specialized diversion programs specifically created for students.

They’ll also track whether the calls are initiated by police, teachers, administrators, parents, students or someone outside the school.

The students contacted by police will be broken down by race and ethnicity, sex, whether they’re eligible for the federal free- and reduced-cost lunch program (the major gauge of poverty in schools), are English Language Learners or receive special education services.

They’ll compare those statistics to similar student discipline statistics.

Other elements of the evaluation, which will be presented annually beginning in October 2020:

* A survey of parents, staff and students about school resource officers and school safety in general. The questions will be added to a survey about schools already sends to parents and will be piloted this spring.

* The number of complaints involving school resource officers, the number of educational presentations officers do at schools, the number of commendations involving SROs and the training completed by officers and educators.

Interested community members got to comment on a draft of the evaluation process in November, and Bonkiewicz said suggestions from the public resulted in adding some demographic categories, adding some questions to the survey and tracking who initiated the contact.

Many of the other suggestions from the public already were being developed as part of the process, Eastman said.

John Neal, assistant to the LPS superintendent, said the evaluation would comply with a bill (LB390) in the Legislature governing school resource officers programs.

Bonkiewicz said in an interview that the plan they’ve come up with will be able to examine the SRO programs for concerns people have raised.

“We have heard the concerns from the people of Lincoln,” he said. “Our goal is to directly address those concerns and find out what’s happening and to improve the SRO program if necessary.”

Reach the writer at 402-473-7226 or mreist@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSreist.

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Education reporter

Margaret Reist is a Lincoln native, the mom of three high school graduates now navigating college and an education junkie who covers students, teachers and policymakers inside and outside the K-12 classroom.

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