How to stay connected as a school resource officer in a COVID-19 world

With schools closed, many SROs have been reassigned, but staying in touch with students is still important


By Joseph Zalenski

As a school resource officer, I, like many across the nation, have been redeployed from my usual duties to augment other agency needs and functions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

With schools closed, many SROs have been reassigned. Some are on patrol and helping to educate folks on their state's COVID-19 restrictions, or assigned to testing points to ensure the public remains safe and orderly. Some SROs are still at school assisting food distribution and facilitating other school functions. While these duties are critical, staying connected with the students you usually interact with on a daily basis is also important.

Here are some ways SROs can let students, administrators and staff know we are still there for them:

Stay in touch with your staff 

In our school district, administrators are staying in touch remotely with teaching staff and they, in turn, stay in touch with students daily through online lessons.

Dr. Ann Cole, principal of Caloosa Middle School in Lee County, Florida, recently asked for her campus SROs to participate in a recorded message for their students: “We wanted our students to know we missed them and asked staff to record a personal message so the students would still feel connected. Our SROs are part of our campus and we wanted them to be involved so the transition back to the classroom can be as seamless as possible.”

keep bridges of communication open

Record positive messages that you distribute through your agency's social media channels to remind your students to stay clean, cough or sneeze responsibly, and to do their best to behave during this unusual time. Just be careful to steer clear of talking in detail about the COVID-19 pandemic, as that should be a parental responsibility.

Many school resources officers are participating in online storytimes, while an Alabama SRO has created interactive reading, singing and magic videos for homebound children.  

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, officers would hand out baseball cards to kids. Record the digital equivalent for your students. SRO Walt Herman, assigned to Challenger Middle School, and his school behavioral specialist, recorded a video to remind the students they are missed. 

 

Challenger Middle School SRO Walt Herman and Behavioral Specialist Scott LeBlanc aren’t sure what to do with themselves. They are missing the kids a lot, but hoping they’re all doing well on their first day of distance learning!

Posted by Cape Coral Police Department on Monday, March 30, 2020

Broward Sheriff's Office SROs recorded these heartfelt messages: 

Be the calm in the storm

We know that this current situation is temporary, but we don’t have an end date for when life will get back to "normal" and that can be stressful. In times like these, people turn to the stable institutions that are the bedrock of our society. Law enforcement can help by being the calm in the storm.

We all remember that dispatcher who, no matter what, would always have a calm voice during the chaos. No matter what bizarre, complex call for service that would rock even the salty veterans, that calm voice at the end of the radio always let me know, "Hey, it’s going to be ok" and the chaos is temporary. We are that voice in the storm for folks right now as they see us in their communities.

SROs spend their day building relationships, talking to staff, students and parents alike. Your skillset is made for this time in our history. Take advantage of it and bring the calm wherever you go, as people are scared after being fed a steady diet of news that only makes them feel more isolated and despondent. 

practice what you preach

SROs are masters of hygiene as schools are notorious for quickly spreading colds and the flu. Here are some top tips to stay safe:

  • Remind your peers to be vigilant about their cleanliness. Set the example by using sanitizer if it is available in lieu of soap and water when it isn’t readily available.
  • Being self-sufficient with a gallon of water and a bar of soap in your patrol car may be necessary for a while.
  • Disinfect every surface you touch in a workday regularly with sanitized wipes, including your steering wheel, laptop, radio and door handles.
  • Most officers keep a reactionary gap from anyone during a call, this habit will help to keep you healthy. Bring the call for service outside if possible and safe to do so.

Lastly, in the time it took to read this, you should be making plans to wash your hands.


About the author

Officer Joseph Zalenski is usually assigned to the SRO unit at an awesome elementary school in Lee County, Florida. Most recently he has been assigned to a COVID-19 collection point where he witnesses daily the heroes of the medical profession as they do their best to combat illness and provide comfort to folks while performing a difficult job.

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