MONTEREY — Beth McGuire is joining the Highland County Sheriff’s Office as a school resource officer for Highland County Public Schools — the first SRO the division has had in some time.
McGuire was a conservation police officer for 14 years with the Department of Wildlife Resources but left the job to spend more time with her family.
“That was the main motivator for leaving that job,” McGuire said, adding that she had loved the job.
McGuire then became an auxiliary deputy and worked part-time, providing court security for the sheriff’s office on court days.
Currently, the school resource officer position is only funded through the end of this school year.
The county was awarded a grant of $61,274 from the Department of Criminal Justice Services in October.
Highland County Sheriff Ronald Wimer asked supervisors to accept the grant in November, but the board tabled the issue until December, when it unanimously accepted the grant and created the position through the end of this school year.
Supervisors expressed concern the grant only covered this school year, but Wimer said McGuire knew the job could be temporary if alternate funding is not secured.
At its January meeting, the Highland County School Board accepted a memorandum of understanding between the school system and the sheriff’s office as a guideline for the school resource officer position.
“My first job is to ensure the safety and security of the students and faculty,” McGuire said.
She will also educate students on how law enforcement works, how to interact with law enforcement, and what officers can do to help people.
McGuire will serve as a mentor and role model. “It’s being there for the kids to have somebody to talk to,” she said. She could mediate and refer students to other services if needed.
She wants to reassure students and parents she is not there to investigate criminal activity.
“I’m not there to arrest a lot of students and put them into the juvenile justice system,” McGuire said. “If a law is broken, that’s when I can step in.” Not all infractions need an arrest, she stressed. “Just because a law is broken doesn’t mean it has to go to the court system. We want to keep them out of the justice system if possible.”
McGuire said she is happy to talk with parents and students anytime. “I have an open-door policy,” she said.
She will have office space at the school for private meetings. “Just call me if you want to talk or have questions about what I can do.”
McGuire will meet weekly with school administrators to plan educational opportunities and try to address any potential problems. “I’ll be really working hand-in-hand with them,” she said.
McGuire is no stranger to working with kids of all ages. “I’ve taught hunter education for 14 years,” she said. She helped start Kids Fishing Day and volunteers with the local Girl Scouts as well. “I’ve been around and worked with kids a lot.”
McGuire will be in complete sheriff’s office uniform and armed while working in the schools. She will work during the school day and at some after-school events as requested.
“I’ll have all the tools necessary to keep the students safe,” McGuire said. She will have access to the school’s security cameras and will be the primary liaison between the school and the sheriff’s office.
McGuire will complete a 40-hour course on basic school resource officer duties within 90 days.
According to the MOU, McGuire reports to the Highland County sheriff, sergeant, or designee.
The school board and school administrators’ duties include advising the SRO of all violations required by law, advising of known safety and security concerns, supporting the SRO through cooperation with staff and working together for resolutions to problems and concerns, and providing adequate supplies and space to the SRO.
The MOU lays out other duties of the SRO, including providing technical assistance to the school for crime prevention, patrolling the school grounds, assisting school administrators to supervise all persons coming onto school property, exercising police authority when criminal situations require immediate action, referring normal school discipline matters to school administration, assisting the schools in creating security practices and crime prevention measures, and in developing positive relationships with students.
Highland County Public Schools superintendent Dr. Drew Maerz asked the supervisors to accept the grant in December. “This is the first school system I’ve been in that does not have a school resource officer,” said Maerz.
“In these times of school safety concerns, having an SRO helps school administrators support the safety and well-being of students,” Maerz told The Recorder. “SROs use their professional training to support administrative efforts in designing, running, and evaluating school safety drills. They serve as a liaison with the sheriff’s office in designing our emergency procedures and crisis response management in the schools.
“They also serve as an onsite responder to threats to safety and a deterrent to unlawful and unsafe activities,” he added. “SROs can also support student learning opportunities such as DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education), CARE (Child Abuse Resistance Education), safe driving, self-defense, and proper decision-making.”