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Training the protectors

Kent ISD — Imagine you are a school security officer standing in a school hallway. You are talking and greeting students when a student walks by and swears at you. What would you do?

That was an ethics question Kent ISD Safety and Security Director Sean Burns asked a group of school security officers who attended the first district-wide School Security Officer Basic In Service program. 

“You could take that student down to the office and report him to the principal and he would be written up or receive detention, but should you?” Burns asked. 

“Maybe what you should try and do is to pull the student aside and have a one-on-one conversation with him or her to learn why he did that,” offered Bert Cata, GRPS security officer. “Try to build a relationship with the student.”

Burns agreed. 

“Consider whether this is a one-off for this student,” Burns said as he continued the discussion. “Has this student ever done this before? You don’t know if that student is tired because he has been up all night trying to earn money to help his family, or is hungry because he hasn’t had anything to eat since yesterday.”

Common Practices, Responses

That was one of many topics covered when 75 civilian security officers representing districts such as Godwin Heights, Grand Rapids, Caledonia, Kentwood, Rockford, Wyoming and Kent ISD met recently. 

The four-day in-service held in August at GRPS University was hosted by Grand Rapids, Kentwood, Rockford and Kent ISD. Those districts participated in a similar program last year, and decided to extend an invitation to all civilian security officers in Kent County school districts. The goal for next year will be to include sworn police officers who serve in schools.

 ‘When kids enter the school the parents are hoping we are there to ‘be them’ in their absence. Our job is to be the protector…’

– Larry Johnson, GRPS executive director of public safety

“This is a very unique program, and there really is nothing like it in the state,” said Larry Johnson, GRPS executive director of public safety. “The main reason we decided to offer the training is that we felt that we needed to have a certain level of professionalism in the field and that we were following common practices and responses.”

Attendees participated in classes such as communication, de-escalation tactics and techniques, crisis intervention and prevention, mental health services, ethics, and first-aid certification/recertification.

“When kids enter the school the parents are hoping we are there to ‘be them’ in their absence,” Johnson said. “Our job is to be the protector, to make the best decision for that student and to keep that student in the best lane possible, avoiding all the barriers that can arise.”

Building a Network

Bryan Warren, a security officer at Kentwood Public Schools, said he could see the benefit of the training as it helped to build a network among officers.

“I have had students transfer from Godwin Heights and vice versa,” Warren said. “Having the opportunity to talk to others in the same field helps us connect and work together to help the students.”

Jabbar Mayhue, from Godwin Heights, said he too has enjoyed the collaboration and sees the training as something that could be beneficial to those in other school positions.

“I think it is a great program,” said Dea Brussels, from Kent ISD. “Things change all the time, and through training such as this you are able to refresh yourself on what is new and how others are handling different things.”

In the end, it’s all about the students, said Vincent Brewer of GRPS.

“It’s a good way to become better able at being an advocate and better serving the kids in the community,” he said.

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Joanne Bailey-Boorsma
Joanne Bailey-Boorsma
Joanne Bailey-Boorsma is a reporter covering Kent ISD, Godwin Heights, Kelloggsville, Forest Hills and Comstock Park. The salutatorian for the Hartland Public Schools class of 1985, she changed her colors from blue and maize to green and white by attending Michigan State University, where she majored in journalism. Joanne moved to the Grand Rapids area in 1989, where she started her journalism career at the Advance Newspapers. She later became the editor for On-the-Town magazine, a local arts and entertainment publication. Her eldest daughter is a nurse, working in Holland, and her youngest attends Oakland University. Both are graduates from Byron Center High School. She is a volunteer for the Van Singel Fine Arts Advisory Board and the Kent District Library. In her free time, Joanne enjoys spending time with her family, checking out local theater and keeping up with all the exchange students they have hosted through the years. Read Joanne's full bio


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