Bullying is still a big problem in Marshall County's schools, according to school resource officers speaking at the Safe and Drug Free Schools Task Force fall meeting this week.
"Bullying is one of the biggest problems at our schools," said Forrest SRO Lori Haynes. "We've got to stop it," she continued. "The kids are scared."
"It becomes the responsibility of all of us," agreed schools director Roy Dukes. "It's a major problem throughout the United States."
Marshall County Sheriff's Department Detective Jimmy Oliver, SRO at Forrest last year, said that, in his opinion, students who are looked up to by their peers are the ones who can influence behavior. "It'll filter down," Oliver told the group, while Dukes pointed out that "the way adults relate to each other sets the tone."
On the practical side, Marshall County High School SRO Billy Ostermann urged parents to document instances of their child being bullied. "A lot of it happens outside of school," he said. With documentation, parents can "go to juvenile services and get something done that way." Ostermann noted that cyber-bullying leaves a record of what number the call came from, and when.
Safety concerns at the school buildings are constantly being addressed, the Task Force heard.
Ostermann reported that many doors at MCHS cannot be secured, except when they are locked for the night, and called this "a major problem," because people can get into the building without being seen.
"It needs to be fixed," Ostermann said, "The doors don't hold up to constant use."
Dukes replied that he has had the maintenance department go through and work on the doors, and that some of them have been secured by safety bars that allow them to only open outwards.
Maintenance is also working on getting classroom numbers on the outside of the buildings, which will be a big help for First Responders. Newly elected sheriff Norman Dalton wants to go through all the schools to get familiar with the buildings.
The high school principals said they wished they could have the drug dogs run through their schools, but this takes multiple dogs and handlers who must be gathered from outside the county.
"We had dogs four times in three years," said Forrest principal Dr. Larry Miller. "We have had students in possession, and catching one student a year keeps the kids more honest than you think."
The group agreed having the drug dogs at the schools was a good idea, and instructed organizer Linda Williams-Lee, the federal projects director, to find out how the school board wants to pay for it.
Budgetary constraints limit the number of SROs in Marshall County.
"Funding is the problem," said Williams-Lee. "Rutherford County and Metro (Nashville) have SROs K-12."
The group agreed that an SRO for every school would have long-term benefits, building respect for, and trust in, law enforcement from earliest childhood.