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Brooke County resource officer issue unresolved

WELLSBURG — The Wellsburg police chief has raised concerns about the absence of school resource officers in Brooke County, suggesting public influence is needed to return them to schools.

Police Chief Richard Ferguson addressed the school board on Monday and the Brooke County Commission on Tuesday.

He noted the two parties haven’t been able to reach a resolution regarding funding the officers, with the board currently employing a security guard at each school instead.

Ferguson told the commissioners, “If this becomes a stalemate, I’m going to try the best I can to involve the public in this.”

He said he sees the officers’ presence in the schools as “a safety valve” in the event of a crisis there.

Ferguson and Brooke County Sheriff Scott Adams have argued security guards, while well intended, lack the training to perform the resource officers’ tasks, which included speaking to students about the law, the effects of drug abuse and other issues.

“We need to look into this as a public. This needs to be addressed,” said Ferguson, who added he’s willing to serve as a mediator.

The police chief said he’s felt like “the unofficial middle guy” in the matter.

While Brooke County sheriff’s deputies have been replaced by security guards at five schools, a Wellsburg police officer remains at Brooke Middle School.

Brooke County Superintendent of Schools Jeffrey Crook confirmed that’s because the school board pays him only for the months he is there.

The school board has asked to prorate pay for the deputies according to time they spend in the schools. Crook and others said state school officials advised the board it may pay only for services they have received.

The move came after schools were ordered closed because of the pandemic and with a potential future closing in mind.

The county commissioners have maintained they were asked by school officials to hire five officers for the schools, with the understanding they would be paid through the school district’s five-year levy.

County Commissioner A.J. Thomas noted the commission suggested duties the officers may perform when schools are closed, including some tasks they assumed in March.

Thomas said there also was talk of adjusting the officers’ pay after schools were closed for a specific number of days.

Commission President Tim Ennis said if the officers are to return to the schools, the commission will stand firm on receiving $90,000 for the salaries and benefits for each.

County Commissioner Stacey Wise said school officials promised officers for each school when they encouraged the levy’s passage.

School officials have maintained the levy’s language doesn’t obligate them to using the deputies.

It calls for $1,434,355 to be used for “health, safety and security enhancements, including, but not limited to, the provision before and after care costs, new playground and Wellness Center equipment, engagement of Resource Officers and additional security for each of the schools located in Brooke County, the purchase and/or rental of uniforms (and related equipment and/or costs) for service personnel, capital improvements, renovations and repair of facilities for the health, safety and security of students, staff and guests and to comply with fire marshal, health, Americans with Disabilities Act, EPA and OSHA standards.”

Crook said at this time the school district is employing security guards at each school while also considering other avenues to fill the void left by the resource officers.

On Monday the school board also learned tentative plans call for all students at Brooke County schools to report for four days of instruction beginning Nov. 2. Crook said the move is pending the number of COVID-19 cases at that time.

Since the school year began, the county’s students have been participating in virtual instruction on three days and reporting to school on two, with about half of each school’s enrollment attending each day.

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