Sheriff's deputy patrolling Jefferson High School

December 04, 1999|By DAVE McMILLION

SHENANDOAH JUNCTION, W.Va. - On a typical day at Jefferson High School, Jefferson County Sheriff's Deputy Tom Hansen can be seen dropping by the boy's bathroom looking for students trying to sneak a cigarette.

Or maybe he's cruising the hallways looking for others skipping class.

Trying to keep an eye on 1,575 students may seem like a big task, but it's nothing compared to what school officials faced last year at the school, according to Principal Richard A. "Doc" Keeler.

"It seems to be much better. We had a couple fights this year, but they have been minor," Keeler said.

Last year, school officials struggled with a number of discipline problems at the school, including an incident in which a student was stabbed in the face with a pen. At the time, Keeler said he had never seen such behavior problems in his 35 years of being a teacher, and he pleaded with the Jefferson County Board of Education to allow a deputy to be stationed in the school.


The problem arose as school districts across the country were wrestling with school violence, including the massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo.

For months, the Board of Education and the Jefferson County Commissioners wrangled over how to pay for a deputy at Jefferson High. One commissioner said it's a sad commentary when police have to be put in schools.

However, Keeler said Hansen's presence is vital to keeping order in the school.

A common problem at the school is students skipping class and being tardy, Keeler said. He and three assistant principals patrol hallways, but that's not enough people to control the problem, he said.

Teachers can't be in hallways to monitor students because they have to be in their rooms to start class, Keeler said.

Hansen checks "key points" where students skipping class are commonly found, and he changes his routine so students never know where he will show up, Keeler said.

The most serious problems at the school this year were the two fights and an incident last month in which a senior struck another student twice in the face in the parking lot, according to Keeler. The senior was arrested and suspended from school, although he has since returned, Keeler said.

About 25 students have been cited for possession of tobacco on school grounds, and some students have been cited for possession of marijuana, Hansen said.

A lot of problems among students stem from relationships that quickly develop and fall apart in school, Hansen said.

Hansen had to intervene in one situation where a female student received a letter from a man being held in jail. The girl's ex-boyfriend was also being held in the jail, and gave her address to a cellmate, Hansen said.

The man asked the girl "explicit" questions in the letter, and the student went to Hansen about the situation.

"She was just plain scared. And when they are that scared, they don't know where to turn," Hansen said.

Hansen got in touch with correctional officials and the problem was resolved, Hansen said.

Hansen said sometimes he is told by friends and colleagues that things must be really bad in school if a deputy is needed. He doesn't see it that way.

Much of his time is talking with students and their parents to address problems before they get worse.

"It's a proactive response. The point is, I'm here before it gets that bad," Hansen said.

Two students interviewed had mixed feelings about having an officer in school.

Shanita Holmes said most fights stem from students who should not be in the school. Students who are at risk of dropping out are pressured into staying in school, and that leads to tensions that cause fights, Holmes said.

"Some people like it, but a lot don't," said Holmes, referring to the use of an officer at the school.

Even with the deputy in school, Holmes said she does not think there are enough administrators to control discipline problems.

"It's just like another teacher there with a little more authority. Personally, I don't think it does a lot of good," said student Theresa Garnreiter.

Hansen's duties take him into the classroom as well.

In driver's education class, Hansen helps students understand the dangers of drunken driving. He lets students wear "fatal vision goggles," which simulates how it feels to be under the influence while trying to drive.

"I'm not a security guard," Hansen said, explaining that his purpose is varied.

Hansen's position is funded through a federal Community Oriented Policing Services grant, although the board of education and the commissioners contribute $73,844 to the three-year program.

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