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The Suburbanite
  • Police return to the classroom with teachers, students

  • Kids and teachers aren’t the only ones going back to school. Cops will be there, too.

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  • Teachers and students aren’t the only ones about to return to the classroom.
    Police officers will be there, too.
    Students who attend Northwest Local Schools will have a new full-time Canal Fulton police officer on campus.
    Dennis Muntean, a seven-year veteran of the city force, is the school’s new, full-time school resource officer (SRO) — Monday through Friday. He’ll also be available for Sts. Philip and James, a private school.
    “This is going to be a new concept for us,” said Canal Fulton Police Chief Douglas Swartz.
    Superintendent Michael Shreffler said a resource officer is a new concept for the school system, as well. The district has had a DARE officer, but never an SRO.
    DARE, which stands for Drug Abuse Resistance Education, is a program in which a police officer who is certified through the Ohio Police Officers Training Academy’s DARE training program teaches a class.
    The curriculum focuses on providing students “with the skills necessary to recognize and resist pressures to experiment with drugs and to avoid gangs and violence,” according to the organization’s website. “Lessons emphasize self-esteem, decision making, interpersonal communication skills, the consequences of drug abuse, conflict resolution and positive alternatives to substance abuse.”
    School resource offices work as a “law enforcement officer, law-related counselor and law-related education teacher,” according to the Ohio School Resource Officers Association website.
    They patrol the school on foot and conduct inspections. The officers also make referrals to social services, public health agencies and legal aid.
    Alliance City Schools don’t have DARE officers or SROs, said Lt. John Jenkins. Instead, the city has “adopt-a-school officers,” who visit each school for four to six hours a week, interacting with students and helping school officials with any law enforcement need.
    Regardless of title, police say, their role is to provide and promote safety.
    ROLE IN SCHOOLS
    DARE officers and resource officers carry guns.
    Stark County Sheriff’s Deputy Melissa Bogunovich is one of only two DARE officers who work in Stark County. Perry Township Police Officer Bill Watson is the other. He teaches a seventh-grade DARE class in the Perry Local district.
    Bogunovich has been a DARE officer since 2004, teaching fifth-, seventh- and ninth-grade classes in Marlington Local Schools. She also has a dual role as an SRO, serving as “an extension of the school,” she said. She helps with emergency planning and any law enforcement needs such as dealing with students who are unruly or truant.
    The DARE program, she said, helps students become “familiar with police officers, to know that someone’s there for them,” Bogunovich said. “It’s a lifeskills program aimed at helping them make good decisions.” She teaches classes about Internet safety, the dangers of over-the-counter prescription drugs and anti-bullying.
    Page 2 of 2 - “I become the counselor, the parent, the social worker and the teacher. I wear so many hats in the school that pretty much wherever they need me, I go, I do,” she said.
    Bogunovich has seen a lot of changes in the last nine years in how children address situations, too.
    “I see more kids standing up for each other more so, if there is a bully situation, than they did 10 years ago,” she said.
    But, she said, she also noticed that the fear resulting in a healthy respect for a police officer is no longer there.
    “There doesn’t seem to be a fear of anything these days. They seem to feel the rules — the laws — don’t apply to them,” she said.
    That’s why police officers are so important in school, administrators say.
    “They serve as such a positive role model,” Shreffler said. “The students get the chance to see a police officer in a positive light. They get to see the officer as a human being.” Alternatively, the officer also serves as a deterrent to crime.
    SCHOOL SAFETY FORCES
    Shreffler and Swartz said that adding a police officer in the local school system was in the works long before the school shootings in Chardon in February 2012 and Sandy Hook, Conn. in December 2012.
    The schools were annexed into the city about five years ago, he said, adding that “Luckily, all the schools of Northwest are located on the same campus.” Sts. Philip & James is nearby.
    “We just kind of want to focus on the safety aspect. That’s where the SRO comes in,” Swartz said.
    Muntean’s job will be “first overall, to improve the safety of the school campus,” the chief said. “He’ll also interact with the students as a counselor and as an educator.” He may also teach some anti-drug- and alcohol-related classes.
    The salary of about $65,000 — which includes wages and benefits — will be paid for by a grant or split by the city and the school. Officials are awaiting word about the grant money.
    Police will also have to replace Muntean at the department for everyday law enforcement.
    Swartz said the city is hiring a new officer, bringing the force up to 10 full-time officers, three part-time and one reserve.
    Reach Lori at 330-580-8309 or
    lori.monsewicz@cantonrep.com.
    On Twitter: @lmonsewiczREP