Schools to house probation officers

Juvenile Department Director Tony Campa discusses the role of probation officers in local schools under an agreement between his office and the Lincoln County School District approved by Lincoln County Commissioners on Feb. 12. (Courtesy photo)

NEWPORT/LINCOLN COUNTY — A new partnership between the Lincoln County School District and Lincoln County Parole and Probation aims to divert troubled students from the “school-to-prison pipeline.”

Last month, the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners approved an intergovernmental agreement between LCSD and the Lincoln County Juvenile Department to place probation officers in area high schools.

While school resource officers have long had a presence in the district, this will be the first time probation officers will maintain offices within the schools for closer, more holistic interaction with students and those who make up their support system, including school staff, counselors, clinicians and family members.

Probation officers will interact not just with students under court-ordered formal supervision but those identified as needing the highest level of attention under the district’s three-tiered support system. Those Tier-3 kids make up about 5 percent of the student body.

LCSD Superintendent Karen Gray told the county commissioners the integration of probation services into school life would help keep at-risk students from involvement in the criminal justice system by providing guidance, rather than punishment.

Through the intergovernmental agreement, part-time probation officers will rotate among district schools, where, Gray said, “they could have really close connections to the kids in the school and stop the school-to-prison pipeline.

“That’s a real goal of our school district — how do we come around our kids and make sure that they feel supported, so that when things happen, and kids engage in behaviors that get them into trouble, they don’t start down a road they can’t come back from,” the superintendent said.

Tony Campa, juvenile department director, said probation officers would be embedded where they were most needed on any given day at the direction of Gray and her team.

County Commissioner Doug Hunt asked if additional funding was available for the program or if it would be paid for through the county’s current revenues.

Campa said they felt it was important to get the program up and running with a reallocation of current resources and seek additional funding once implementation had proven successful.

One possibility for future funding, Gray said, could be the newly created Student Investment Account, born of the Student Success Act passed by the Oregon Legislature last year, from which the district expects to receive about $4.6 million. She said working with the county to keep students out of the criminal justice system would handily fit within one of the account’s intended purposes — to contribute to student health and safety.

“This is really part of the bigger work called restorative justice,” the superintendent said. “There’s a real movement in the United States around restorative practices in schools, where, instead of having kids kind of on their own and ending up kicked out of class, kicked out of school and in the community offending, we’re trying so hard to restore justice in the classroom, have kids state how their behavior impacts other people, take responsibility for their actions, but also welcome them back into a loving environment.”

The agreement approved by the board went into effect March 1, but no probation officers have been stationed in schools just yet. Gray told the News-Times a meeting was scheduled for March 20 to discuss implementation and set a timeline for launch.

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