Osceola School Board member holds first meeting of citizen advisory group for school safety

Osceola School Board member holds first meeting of citizen advisory group for school safety

KISSIMMEE, Fla. — Osceola County School Board member Julius Melendez held the first meeting of a Citizen Advisory Group for School Safety he created himself Wednesday evening.

Melendez formed the group as a way to gather suggestions on how to improve school safety, and review district policies for School Resource Officers.

The inaugural meeting comes two weeks after a School Resource Officer from the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office was seen on video slamming a 16-year-old female student to the ground at Liberty High School in Kissimmee.

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Video shows Osceola County deputy slamming Liberty High School student to the ground

Wednesday’s discussion was largely focused on training.

It began with Kissimmee Police Chief Jeff O’Dell. He says his agency is one of three that supply the county’s SROs, along with the sheriff’s office and St. Cloud Police Department.

Chief O’Dell says his SROs are there to mentor and protect the students. He says they’re extensively trained on youth mental health, de-escalation techniques, and defensive tactics.

“That’s where we teach the officer at what level they can respond to a particular level of resistance, but we’ve never used kids,” O’Dell says. “So we’ve certainly got to be careful, but we have an explorer unit and they’re teenage kids, so we’re going to have them roleplay.”

The group also heard from the school district’s special needs department.

Yolanda Rodriguez is the supervisor of their behavioral programs. She says she’s spent 15 years training staff on what to do with students who are in “full crisis” mode without getting physical with them.

“And possibly, if we have to get to that point...there are four restraint techniques that we use,” Rodriguez explains. “Three of them are standing where the student never goes to the floor.”

The advisory group wants to explore including the SROs in that training.

Superintendent Dr. Debra Pace says she’ll look into surveying both students and staff about their thoughts on the SROs.

Melendez hopes to meet again in two weeks.

“We’re doing something about it. No one can say our school board doesn’t care.”

The advisory group meeting was not an official meeting of the school board.

Melendez says he invited the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office to participate, but the department declined.

Instead, sheriff’s office representatives will attend another meeting with just the school district and the other law enforcement agencies who have school resource officers.

That school board workshop is scheduled for March 3.