STOCK Verona Area High School March 2020

The student entrance to Verona Area High School.

Two years ago, a series of fights at Verona Area High School led district officials to create a three-person security team.

Its presence has helped to drastically cut the number of arrests and citations there, the team’s coordinator, Corey Saffold, reported to the school board at the Verona Area Board of Education’s Monday, July 6, meeting.

Verona police cautioned that does not mean a drop in the number of incidents in the 2019-20 school year, but district staff said having security assistants allowed them to intervene in conflicts between students before they escalated into fights.

During the 2018-19 school year, police gave 30 disorderly conduct tickets to Verona Area High School students on school property. The following school year, there were zero.

There were also no citations for resisting arrest or battery in 2019-20, compared with one of each the prior years.

Verona police chief Bernie Coughlin told the Press that while the 30 disorderly conduct tickets in 2018-19 were separated into two categories – disorderly conduct on school property or disorderly conduct prohibited – they mean essentially the same thing.

Saffold credited that to his security team.

“This basically means there was a huge reduction in the number of fights and overall disturbances at the school,” he said. “These are directly related to our security team being in place and preventing these incidents from happening.”

According to Verona police records compiled for the district as a part of the PSLO contract conditions, a total of 59 citations were given during 38 separate incidents in 2018-19, with 13 of those citations coming from the fights on May 9, 2018. In 2019-20, there were a total of 20 citations given out to 20 students, with just over half of those comprising truancy and possession of marijuana.

Coughlin added that over a four-year time frame, there were 28 students at VAHS that had received between two and four citations while on school property.

The district’s security team, composed of Saffold and three security assistants, was strategically placed throughout the former Verona Area High School building during times when conflicts were most likely to occur. Saffold found that before school and lunchtime were the most common times, so each security team member was stationed at the bus drop-off, the entrance in the Commons outside of the gym during the morning, and then did regular bathroom checks and hall sweeps and responded to teacher requests for assistance.

Through their interactions, security assistants made it a point to engage with students, Saffold said.

“They’re doing their rounds, they see students in the hall and students where they’re not supposed to be, security is really good at engaging them and redirecting them to class, or redirecting them to where they’re supposed to be,” he said.

In designing the security team and its roles during the school day, Saffold found that 16 percent of the security team’s 623 interactions recorded in a daily log in 2019-20 were for assistance with students who have special needs.

So he worked with Verona Police Department community officer Ryan Adkins on a protocol with special education teachers to reduce the chance that students with special needs might hurt themselves or others by learning how to properly restrain or hold a student until he or she is calmed down.

More than half the requests were prompted by requests from administration or staff asking for assistance with a student, and 52 of them involved fight prevention.

Often, the fight prevention involves members of the security team coordinating discussions with students, counselors and mediators to address what the root of a conflict is, Saffold said, whether it’s an argument spilling out from their neighborhood or an insult traded on social media.

Superintendent Dean Gorrell commended the security team for its progress on making the high school a safer environment and reducing the number of issues in the community.

“It really is a group effort to keep peace,” he said. “It’s about interactions, and about not responding to every verbal or social media slight that comes their way ... those numbers are a reflection of that.”

Email reporter Kimberly Wethal at kimberly.wethal@wcinet.com and follow her on Twitter @kimberly_wethal.