The following staff contribute to the safety and security of our students and buildings.
30 counselors (K-12)
5 campus monitors
3 prevention intervention specialists
1 wellness director (position transitioning)
1 director of school safety and emergency management
1 safety/wellness program specialist
1 director of teaching and learning - student services
0.2 Educational Service District (ESD) prevention agreement for safety assessments support
1 District Resource Officer (DRO), with costs split 50/50 with Bellingham Police Department (BPD).
Additionally, we employ many paraeducators who work directly with students for support and relationship-building.
In addition to the training required to be a commissioned law enforcement officer, the resource officer must be trained in the following topics (per Washington state law):
(a) Constitutional and civil rights of children in schools, including state law governing search and interrogation of youth in schools;
(b) Child and adolescent development;
(c) Trauma-informed approaches to working with youth;
(d) Recognizing and responding to youth mental health issues;
(e) Educational rights of students with disabilities, the relationship of disability to behavior, and best practices for interacting with students with disabilities;
(f) Collateral consequences of arrest, referral for prosecution, and court involvement;
(g) Resources available in the community that serve as alternatives to arrest and prosecution and pathways for youth to access services without court or criminal justice involvement;
(h) Local and national disparities in the use of force and arrests of children;
(i) De-escalation techniques when working with youth or groups of youth;
(j) State law regarding restraint and isolation in schools, including RCW 28A.600.485;
(k) Bias free policing and cultural competency, including best practices for interacting with students from particular backgrounds, including English learners, LGBTQ, and immigrants; and
(l) The federal family educational rights and privacy act requirements including limits on access to and dissemination of student records for noneducational purposes.
We acknowledge the role educational and judicial systems play, and are committed to building systems that disrupt this.
Currently we use a restorative justice approach with school discipline, and we recognize it as a systemic need that goes hand-in-hand with other efforts such as social-emotional learning. We have eliminated zero-tolerance policies, which do not allow for context and professional judgement within student discipline. We have invested, particularly at elementary and middle school, in PBIS and Sound Discipline.
We limit suspension and expulsions in line with the state’s guidance regarding limitations of punitive measures. This work had already been in process in our district before the state codified it into law. The DRO works closely with school administration in supporting students and families, and the DRO takes no actions without knowledge of school administration. Our agreement prohibits a school resource officer from becoming involved in formal school discipline situations that are the responsibility of school administrators; this is consistent with state law.
Per state law: “School resource officers should focus on keeping students out of the criminal justice system when possible and should not be used to attempt to impose criminal sanctions in matters that are more appropriately handled within the educational system.”
Even when laws are violated and police intervention is required, we bring the restorative justice mindset into our collaboration with DRO/student services/courts/probation officers. We coordinate proactively during a monthly coordination meeting with student services staff, campus monitors, assistant principals, DRO, director of school safety and emergency management and probation officers to be better informed of student needs and circumstances, current status with the judicial process and how we can better support students in need.
We have seen a continuous downward trend in the gap between discipline rates of various portions of the student population, such as students of color or students receiving special education support.
With one DRO supporting 23 sites, a majority of their time is spent responding to and supporting situations as needed. When not in response mode, the DRO plans for equitable time spent in geographic areas and follows a weekly schedule set up for non-emergent needs. For example, one day the DRO may visit Parkview Elementary, Sunnyland Elementary, Options High, Bellingham High and Whatcom Middle schools. Another day, they may go to Alderwood Elementary, Birchwood Elementary, Shuksan Middle and Columbia Elementary schools. Middle schools and high schools on average tend to have a more frequent need for police response, but no individual school is routinely targeted for increased patrols or police presence.
In contrast to many districts with assigned Student Resource Officers (SROs) in specific buildings, Bellingham Public Schools does not have routine police presence in our buildings regularly as part of normal, day-to-day operations.
Operating in schools with youth requires a unique skill set, demeanor and communication aptitude. It is helpful to have a consistent position that establishes trust with building administrators, builds relationships with students who need support and works daily with the director school safety and emergency management. Having close working relationships is valuable for everyone supporting the safety needs in our district.
The DRO assignment typically lasts 2-3 years to ensure proper continuity and training. BPD candidates must apply for the position and only those who have an aptitude for the position and the school environment are considered. District leadership participates in the hiring selection of the DRO personnel.
The DRO role includes important educational support and non-enforcement activities which support our students, families, and schools. The DRO is involved in presentations, workshops and district task forces on topics as wide as: civil rights and amendments, drugs/alcohol awareness, safe routes to school advisory group, impaired driving, peer-to-peer education group advising, workshops on sexting and digital citizenship, advising the BPD teen explorer program for youth, helping with Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) reviews at schools, coordinating with Whatcom County Support Officers for emotional recovery support in traumatic incidents, working with BPD behavioral health officers to support issues involving mental health needs, coordinating with CPS, etc.
The first responder lunch program welcomes any first responder (police, fire, EMS) to join students for lunch in our schools. It is optional for students to engage with them and not required. It is funded through grant money and not general district funds. The program covers the $4 cost of the meal; responders are not compensated for their time by the district. This program is currently on hiatus because of the current coronavirus pandemic. During this time, our schools will either be closed or off-limits to visitors, including first responders.
With a district our size, every day is unique, but here are some examples of more routine activities for the DRO:
- Traffic and public safety control (pickup/drop-offs when there are issues or accidents, large events, volatile escalated persons, etc.).
- Teaching classes in civil rights, drugs/alcohol, impaired driving, sexting impacts, consent, and digital citizenship
- Running the teen explorer program for youth, assisting with peer to peer drug education training
- Coordinating with support officers for emotional recovery in traumatic incidents; navigating families through the legal and investigative components of situations and applicable laws.
- Partnering on our safety assessments as part of our prevention efforts.
- Assisting our director of school safety and emergency management with active shooter/violence response planning and mitigation and training
- Handling cases of theft, burglary, assault and battery, harassment, sex crimes, gang activity, weapons, drugs, vandalism, threats, missing persons/runaways, child abuse, welfare checks. Sometimes this involves students, sometimes family members (or staff) that impacts our school. Done in close coordination with administration and restorative justice approach when possible.
- Assisting with suicidal subjects and emergency transport, child protective custody cases, trespasses when requested by district for unsafe or destructive persons.
- Assist with re-entry meetings and juvenile justice monthly meetings with probation officers and administrators. The intent is to support students and better understand their circumstances and challenges (and keeping them out of the law enforcement/judicial system as much as possible).
- Keeping up to date on training requirements, usually a full day every month on range of topics required (everything from trauma informed interviewing, bias training, verbal de-escalation, etc.).