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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.

Remember that debate about school resource officers a couple of months ago?

Lincoln Police Chief Jeff Bliemiester does, and as a result, both school resource officers and school administrators are getting more training.

“We want to ensure administrators and our SROs have a consistent message about the role of SROs,” Bliemiester said. “This is all part of an ongoing evolution to provide our officers and the administrators with what we believe is the most important roles the SROs will serve.”

To recap: Concerns about school safety after the school shooting at a Parkland, Florida, high school led to an interlocal agreement between the city and Lincoln Public Schools that will, among other things, pay for six school resource officers for middle schools. 

Proponents wanted more officers to help protect students. Opponents argued more officers in schools could result in more kids being funneled into the justice system, especially marginalized and minority students.

LPD has always offered training to the six school resource officers who have worked in LPS high schools, but in June, those officers and prospective school resource officers got an additional eight hours of training.

And police hope to get a $30,000 grant to help pay for additional training from an organization called Strategies for Youth.

The training — for both police and school administrators — teaches about adolescent brain development and offers strategies for interacting with students, including those with emotional, behavioral and learning disabilities.

It also will help delineate when officers should become involved and when situations should be handled by school administrators.

One of the concerns during debate on the interlocal agreement was incidents that should be handled through school disciplinary procedures were instead being given to police to handle. 

The grant also would allow officers or school administrators to learn how to train others. 

Sara Hoyle, the county’s human services administrator who is applying for the grant, said Omaha’s school resource officers have used the training and found it helpful.

Bliemiester said training will also focus on helping officers better understand the effect of trauma on students and how best to interact with those who have suffered trauma.

Preliminary work also is underway on a memorandum of understanding signed by city and school officials as part of the interlocal agreement.

The memorandum requires city and school officials to create an evaluation process to monitor whether there's disparate treatment of minority students by police or school administrators.

The interlocal board has directed staff to come up with a plan to allow community input about what statistics should be gathered, said school board member Lanny Boswell, who chairs the interlocal board.

The first evaluation is due in the fall of 2020, he said, so they should be getting staff recommendations in the coming months.

Canadian Mounties

Larry Roseberry, a Tennessee transplant who works at Rolling Hills Trading in Lincoln, thinks the Canadian Mounties are onto something. 

Rolling Hills Trading, which sells electric cars that kids can ride, got a call from a Mounties' office in a small Canadian town some months ago. 

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The Canadian Mounties — the federal and national police force in Canada — were looking for an electric toy car.

They wanted to make it look like their cruisers, put a stuffed bear dressed in a Mountie uniform inside and drive it remotely in parades. 

The business sold them a car after eliciting a promise that they'd send pictures.

Some months later — in the midst of debate here about school resource officers — Roseberry received pictures and a story that ran in the town's newspaper with what seemed like a timely message. 

“It has really improved their relationship with the younger set,” he said. Kids were regularly coming up to Mounties' cruisers, peering inside, striking up conversations — and wanting to find out about that bear. 

The experience in Canada, Roseberry said, made him think that if kids got to know police better, maybe they wouldn’t mistrust them.

“I just think they don’t know each other,” he said.

That’s long been one of the arguments for having officers in schools, especially elementary schools: letting kids get to know officers in positive situations.

In Canada, they made inroads with an electric car from Nebraska and a bear.

“I think their unintended consequence is they have created a situation where the kids see it as car, bear, Mountie, not police, arrest, jail,” Roseberry said.

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

On Twitter @LJSreist.

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