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Spotsylvania weighs allowing school resource officers to help enforce 'safety' policies
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Spotsylvania weighs allowing school resource officers to help enforce 'safety' policies

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The Spotsylvania County School Board is considering additions to its memorandum of understanding with the Sheriff’s Office that would allow school resource officers to assist administrators “for specific safety reasons, including policy enforcement that affects safety.”

Several board members, including Rabih Abuismail and Kirk Twigg, took issue with the proposed new language at the board’s meeting Monday.

“My idea on policy is I never want to add it on top of existing policy,” said Abuismail, the Courtland District representative. He added that he thinks the new language “[infringes] on people’s constitutional rights ... in the name of safety.”

Division staff presented the new draft memorandum at the School Board’s meeting Monday. Virginia law that went into effect July 1, 2020, states that school divisions that partner with local law enforcement agencies to employ school resource officers must “review and amend or affirm” the memorandum that sets forth the officers’ duties every two years.

The law also states that divisions must publish the memorandum on their websites and provide notice and opportunity for public input during each review period. Individual memorandums of understanding must be based on a model document developed by the Virginia Center for School and Campus Safety, which is part of the state Department of Criminal Justice Services.

Janet Hodges, director of school safety, told the School Board Monday that the memorandum between the school division and the Sheriff’s Office that is currently in effect was approved in 2019.

School Board attorney Jennifer Parrish said she and Hodges developed the new draft memorandum based on the model document with “numerous changes to make it fit with Spotsylvania County schools.”

“We then conversed with the Sheriff’s Office and made a couple of other changes, which you are seeing now,” Parrish said.

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School Board Chairwoman Dawn Shelley read aloud a letter from Spotsylvania Sheriff Roger Harris, which Harris said he wrote “in an effort to clarify misinformation.” In the letter, Harris said the changes are “not directly related to [COVID-19] or mask wearing.”

“The Spotsylvania Sheriff’s Office does not enforce mask mandates; however, in the spirit of safety for all concerned, and to uphold all laws, the Sheriff’s Office will continue to enforce all current criminal laws under the Virginia State Code.”

Virginia’s Aug. 12 public health order requiring masks in K–12 school settings is enforceable under Virginia Code, which states that “any person willfully violating or refusing, failing or neglecting to comply with any regulation or order of the Board or Commissioner or any provision of this title shall be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor unless a different penalty is specified.”

At Monday’s meeting, the School Board was asked to approve that the draft memorandum be posted to the school division website.

Twigg, the Livingston District representative, moved that the board delay making any revisions to the memorandum until January, but this was voted down.

In the end, the board voted to have the draft placed on the division website, spotsylvania.k12.va.us, and accept public comment on the proposed revisions for 60 days.

Abuismail voted against this motion, stating that he believes “people’s hidden agendas are in the name of safety.”

Later in the meeting, Abuismail also proposed that the board approve a motion stating that the school division will not mandate COVID-19 vaccines for any staff member or student.

After other board members said they could not support a motion that might conflict with future laws or mandates from the Virginia High School League or other governing entities, Abusimail amended his motion and proposed a resolution instead.

The resolution, which was eventually approved by all board members except Battlefield District representative Baron Braswell, states that Spotsylvania County Public Schools will not “initiate” a vaccine mandate.

Adele Uphaus–Conner:

540/735-1973

auphaus@freelancestar.com

@flsadele

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