Kennewick just took a big step to make 4,000 kids safer

These Tri-City students have something to say about school safety

Hundreds of Tri-City students left their classroom on Wednesday for a nationwide student walkout to protest gun violence and honor the 17 victims of the recent school shooting in Parkland, Florida.
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Hundreds of Tri-City students left their classroom on Wednesday for a nationwide student walkout to protest gun violence and honor the 17 victims of the recent school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

Kennewick middle schools will be even safer starting this fall.

That's because two more police officers are being brought on to work in the district's five middle schools, which have more than 4,000 students.

The Kennewick School Board approved the plan this week.

The vote was unanimous — and enthusiastic, said Superintendent Dave Bond.

"I barely finished the recommendation when one of the board members said, 'So moved' and another said, 'Seconded,'" he said.

The district has a police officer stationed at each of its three comprehensive high schools — Chris Buroker at Kamiakin, Mike Rosane at Kennewick and Tony Valdez at Southridge.

Those officers, known as student resource officers, help with issues or incidents at the middle schools. But they're not dedicated to the middle schools, and when they're tied up, patrol officers must be called in.

That changes next school year. The district will have two more SROs — one serving Highlands, Desert Hills and Chinook middle schools, and the other serving Park and Horse Heaven Hills middle schools, plus helping out as needed at Chinook.

It'll make the schools and community safer in more ways than one, said Kennewick police Sgt. Aaron Clem, who supervises the SROs.

"It'll shorten our response time to the middle schools," Clem said. "We already have a 2- to 3-minute response time, but having someone in the schools already will shorten that response time (even more)."

And it'll free up patrol officers, who often are called out to the middle schools when the high school SROs aren't available, he said.

Plus, Clem said, the additional SROs means more caring adults to help prevent issues and make a difference in kids' lives.

"The positive interaction builds relationships, teaches (kids) that law enforcement isn't bad. They grow up having that good, positive relationship with the police department," Clem told the Herald.

The school district and police department share the cost of the SROs, with the school district expecting to chip in about $150,000 for the two new positions.

Pasco School District has SROs in all its middle schools and high schools.

Starting next academic year, the Richland School District also is getting a boost in its SRO ranks.

The city of West Richland is paying for an SRO dedicated to the district's four schools in that city. The officer will be stationed at Enterprise Middle School and also cover Libby Middle School and Tapteal and Wiley elementary schools.

The SROs at Richland and Hanford high will continue covering the district's other middle schools.

In Kennewick, district leaders also have made other recent investments in school safety.

The school board earlier this year directed staff to shore up security at the district's elementary schools, starting with the oldest. Work already has started, with most of the improvements expected to be done by the start of next school year.

The improvements, which are costing about $250,000, largely are focused on the schools' entryways.

Bond also recently joined Richland Superintendent Rick Schulte in asking Benton County commissioners to set aside public safety sales tax dollars for mental health counselors in the two districts' secondary schools.

It's been a tough year nationwide in terms of school violence, Bond said, from the deadly Parkland, Fla. high school shooting in February to the Santa Fe, Texas shooting earlier this month.

Kennewick school leaders continue to make safety the top priority, he said.

"Our district's No. 1 goal has not changed. That goal is that kids are safe, staff is safe," Bond said. "That comes before anything else."

Sara Schilling: 509-582-1529, @saratcherald