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Officials: St. Charles schools safer since program began

By STACEY PLAISANCE / L’Observateur / October 12, 1998

HAHNVILLE – Officials say that since the implementation of the Safe Schools Program in St. Charles Parish, there has been an 83 percentreduction in the number of fights and a decrease in the severity of violence in schools.

A presentation on school safety and the effectiveness of the Safe Schools Program was hosted by Assistant Superintendent Elizabeth Woods and Sheriff’s Department representative Pat Yoes at the St. Charles ParishSchool Board’s regular meeting Wednesday. Woods said violence isdisruptive to a learning environment and causes students to feel threatened both physically and psychologically; therefore, when school violence was mounting in the parish from 1990-93, the board instituted the Safe Schools Program. The program was a new method of addressingschool violence, she said.

“It’s an interactive intervention with use of resource officers and a safety committee that involves the community,” Woods said, adding the program offers opportunity for conflict resolution.

Yoes outlined the duties and responsibilities of the resource officers and commented on the impact these officers have made on area schools.

Resource officers teach law-related courses and conflict resolution classes, provide informal counseling, help change attitudes of students about police officers and law enforcement and are specially trained to work in schools and enforce the law, Yoes said.

“When incidents occur, administrators still perform internal investigations, and should an arrest be necessary the resource officer is contacted and an arrest is made,” Yoes said. “But with this program thestudents aren’t just thrown into the court system, they are given the opportunity to take conflict resolution classes and break down associations with conflict and anger.”Yoes said the program utilizes communication skills, and parent participation is required. Community service requirements were added tothe program, requiring that students work 10 hours in community improvement projects. These improvement projects sometimes involvearea schools, such as graffiti clean-ups, Yoes said.

The schools still implement their suspension policies regarding school violence, but Superintendent Rodney Lafon said the community service work has been an influential part of the Safe Schools Program.

“This gives us a chance to work with the community and teach students responsibility,” Lafon said. “The sense of citizenship they gain really goesa long way.”Over a five-year period violence at Destrehan High School has decreased by 76 percent from 1993-94 to 1997-98, Woods said. Hahnville HighSchool violence has decreased by 63 percent, and there was also a reduction in total violence for all secondary schools.

Resource officers were recognized at Wednesday’s meeting, and they were commended by Sheriff Greg Champagne for their involvement in the program. Champagne said the program’s utilization of resource officershas changed many students’ attitudes toward police officers and law enforcement.

“The kids know who the resource officers are and they’ve built rapport, and kids actually have interest in police officer work,” Champagne said.

“You didn’t hear that years ago, and the kids now want to know what else they can do to make the community a better place.”In other business, the board: Heard from Lafon, who announced the opening of the Homework Hotline and encouraged both students and their parents to utilize the hotline service. Lafon also announced the need for more mentors for the “Help OneStudent to Succeed” program.

– Approved the superintendent’s recommended revision to the budget regarding end of the year encumbrances. It is stated in the item proposalthat, “because of the unusually high balance in year end encumbrances for the 1997 fiscal year, the 1998 fiscal year budget should include 1997 encumbrances plus the additional Fund Balance reserved for encumbrances.” Approval of this revision had no financial effect to theschool district.

– Accepted the Tier II School Bus Driver Salary Schedule at a cost of $4,000 per year. According to the item proposal, “the new Tier II SalarySchedule will provide similar salary incentives as the Tier I Salary Schedule over a period of time.”

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