Bethany boosts safety, trust with school resource officer

OklahomaHuman InterestEducation
Published: 07/10/2019, 10:17 AM
Edited: 03/11/2021, 10:22 AM
(BETHANY, Okla.) School security has a new face in Bethany – a full-time school resource officer the kids affectionately call Officer Z. Zack Zamudio left his beat with the Bethany Police Department to walk the halls of Bethany Public Schools at the beginning of the last school year as part of several new measures designed to increase safety at the school. “We’re not policing the school; we’re securing the school,” Zamudio said. “Shutting off the police mode and switching to security mode was tough at first, but once you get the hang of it, it’s so much more enjoyable. You can truly make a difference here that you can’t make on the streets.” Previously, Bethany Public Schools hired off-duty police personnel to provide security for the schools but switched to a designated school resource officer to provide continuity and the capacity for a trained officer to build relationships with the students. Zamudio, whose training includes crisis intervention, mental health and drug abuse prevention, knows Bethany students well enough that he can tell when they’re having a bad day. He not only keeps the building secure, he provides a safe space for students who need help in their personal lives. “Whereas the kids watch the way they present themselves in front of administrators and teachers, they feel more comfortable coming in my office, being themselves and speaking like they would normally speak. For them, that helps relieve some of the stress and anxieties they may have,” Zamudio said. “I’m very lucky to get to play that role.” In addition to bringing in Zamudio, Bethany has found new ways to protect its entrances. Before the first bell, school administrators greet every student at the door each morning. Each entryway has been retrofitted with vestibules where visitors must check in at an electronic kiosk with their driver’s licenses and be buzzed in to gain access to the office. The system initiates a basic background check on the license and alerts school personnel to potential red flags. School attendance secretary Stephanie Kirkpatrick said parents have been responsive to the new system. “It’s been a game-changer. Parents see it as an extra step for safety, and I think they appreciate it,” Kirkpatrick said. Bethany superintendent Drew Eichelberger sought stakeholder input before implementing the added security measures and said teachers and students have told him they feel safer. “We want to make sure that our kids and our parents feel like they’re in a safe environment, because learning can’t occur if we have kids who are worried about whether they’re going to be safe or not. We want to put just enough in place to know who’s coming in and out of the school and that we know we have measures that make sure people don’t get into school who shouldn’t be here,” Eichelberger said. Jon Parker, executive director of school safety and security at the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE), said Bethany is a model for what small districts can do to increase security while maintaining a welcoming learning environment. “Many small districts are rural districts, and tragically, should something happen in those schools, response times from fire and police departments could be up to an hour. Well-trained school resource officers working on-site every day carry a multitude of benefits,” Parker said. In October, OSDE received two federal grants to implement school security guidance across the state. As part of a $3.7 million, five-year grant from the U.S. Department of Education, OSDE will assist at least 85 districts with the development of All Hazard Emergency Operation Plans, training opportunities and the identification of best practices in school safety. In collaboration with the University of Central Oklahoma, Oregon’s Salem-Keizer School District and the Oklahoma School Security Institute (OSSI), OSDE secured a three-year, $250,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to create a Behavioral Threat Assessment and Management System. An initial rollout will be available to select districts this summer, with access and training implemented across the state over the next two years. “A psychological sense of safety must be present in our greater school communities to ensure students have the ability to thrive. If our kids feel safe, learning can be achieved at the highest individual level,” Parker said. As Zamudio visits with students in the halls, he asks them about their weekend, and they exchange high-fives. “He’s cool,” said Karter Fouts, a student at Bethany High School. “He’s definitely important to have for safety, but at the beginning of the year he made sure we knew he was a friend first – a place where we could go to rant or tell him what was wrong.”


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