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Schools exploring solutions to bring SROs to elementary schools

Recent school shootings across the United States, including the shootings in Nashville, Tennessee, and Ulvalde, Texas, have many parents in the greater Charlotte area reviewing protections at their own kid's Carolina school.

WCNC Charlotte found most elementary schools do not have a school resource officer (SRO) or any other dedicated law enforcement presence on campus. While some school districts are actively seeking a solution to increase security for their youngest students, other school districts remain without an immediate plan to bring SROs to their elementary schools.

"I think it’s vital especially now," Deputy Sheriff Zachary Pullin, a school resource officer in Union County said about the need for SROs. " In the environment we have, these [schools] are soft targets."

Pullin knows how important his job is — especially in an elementary school.

"What I tell parents at the beginning of the year, 'These are your kids, but they're my kids too,'" Pullin said." That's how I treat them: as if they are my own."

Union County Public School’s Superintendent Andrew Houlihan said the presence of law enforcement goes even beyond security.

"Ultimately if and when a school shooter happens to come inside of a building, the presence of that SRO is critical," Houlihan, who holds a doctorate in education from the University of Texas at Austin, explained. "[SROs] often take on much more different roles in the form of a counselor, sometimes a social worker, a confidant, that trusted adult in the building our kids can go to."

“I get to interact with those kids," Pullin added. "I get to be with those kids and especially the ones that are at-risk. Those are the ones that you want to try and help. That’s the 1% you want to spend a little more time with, but that’s the 1% you don't want to deal with later on down the road.”

Union County is currently on a three-year phased program to have an SRO in every school -- elementary, middle and high school -- by 2025.

A similar plan to have an SRO in every school is already happening in Cabarrus County Schools.

Now parents across Charlotte are pushing for change.

"I believe that every school in CMS, and probably every school across the country, should have a resource officer," Heather Dinolfo, the mother of a student in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS), said.

Dinolfo is now pushing for change and more protection for students after yet more school shootings in this country.

"You know, this has not changed since Columbine. This has not changed since Sandy Hook. This has not changed since Parkland. This has not changed since Uvalde and look at what just happened in Nashville," Dinolfo said.

While CMS has law enforcement officers in their middle and high schools, they do not in their elementary schools.

CMS Chief of Police Melissa Mangum said it’s not just about funding.

"I am an advocate for SROs in every school," Mangum said. "But we are literally in a crisis as far as staffing for police officers."

After the Nashville shooting, Bryan Vaughn, the head of safety and transportation for Lancaster County School District, posted on social media saying:

“We are working with local law enforcement to place more officers in elementary schools, but there is a law enforcement shortage. We will continue to work to get more officers as soon as possible.”

Dinolfo said she is ready for change.

"Obviously, I think most parents, and most people, can agree that protecting our children should be a top priority for the community," Dinolfo added. "Expecting our children to shoulder the burden for keeping themselves safe from an active shooter is not fair. It's also not fair to our teachers to have to worry about keeping them alive."

Pullin said he's committed to making the school environment a safer place for everyone.

"From the time we start on patrol to when we retire, we understand that that’s the risk that we take," Pullin said.

A risk to protect and serve some of the most vulnerable in our community.

Pullin also worked with the community and the school to get multiple Stop the Bleed kits and tourniquets at the school.

Deputy Pullin’s school, Fairview Elementary, is the only school in the county with these kits in the hallways.

His ultimate goal would be to have them in every classroom.

Some of the schools also said they are looking at the safety of their glass doors and will be taking that to a school safety committee to see if more funding needs to go toward more entrance protection as well.


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