School will look much different this year with coronavirus restrictions in place, but the objectives for Onslow County’s School Resource Officers haven’t changed.

In fact, the 18 officers will be approaching the new school year with a “business as usual” outlook in spite of the difference.

“It’s going to be different,” SRO Capt. Scott Rowe said. “And we can’t look at prior years to get an idea of how this will look. We’re just going to approach this like any other school year, except for the fact that our SROs will have fewer kids at the school at one time.”

Onslow County Schools will operate on a rotating basis, with “Group A” attending Monday and Tuesday and “Group B” on Thursday and Friday. Wednesday will be used as a deep-cleaning day. Officers will be at their locations all five school days.

“We’ll have classes with the SROs before school starts and we’re going to encourage them to approach it like normal,” Rowe explained. “It will be a new experience, but the primary objective of a SRO is to protect the kids and the staff from anything. That won’t change. It will just be more washing of hands and wearing of masks.”

All SROs will wear masks while inside the schools and, while they will still perform their usual duties, enforcing such standards as social distancing and mask wearing will fall to school staff.

There are still many uncertainties for the school year, such as whether the format will change mid-semester, forcing the department to remain flexible for what may come.

“I don’t know if it will happen,” Rowe said. “My fear is that a few kids will come up positive and then we’ll have to switch to entirely virtual again, which was a stressful transition last school year. We’re going to take it week by week and see how it goes. I don’t know what to look forward to or be wary of. The (officers are) just going to go back to school and do their jobs.”

Health and safety measures aren’t the only changes that have occurred culturally since the end of the last school year. The Black Lives Matter movement is still very active, spawning protests and marches in various cities and communities across the country. The SRO department acknowledged the movement, but isn’t anticipating any changes to its approach or problems surrounding the issue involving its officers.

“We’re very blessed to have a tight-knit community,” Rowe said. “From my point, we haven’t had any issues like that at all. We’ve had a few peaceful protests and some prayer sessions, but other than that, we’ve been very blessed. Our community is different than a lot of others, too. We have races from everywhere here and everyone pretty much gets along with everyone else here. It’s an awesome community to be a part of.”

Rowe referenced the mixing pot way of life in a military-dominated county, one that incorporates different cultures from around the world.

“It’s a big difference with the military community,” he said. “You’re used to being out there with people of all races and religions and creeds. You don’t think about that out there. You just see them as your brother. That’s how it feels in this community.”

Of the 18 SROs, five are assigned to high schools, five to middle schools, one to an alternative school and seven to elementary schools. The number of officers was upped from 11 to 18 in 2019 after the Onslow County Board of Commissioners approved a grant program. The seven elementary SROs divide their time among 14 schools.

The county’s SRO department services four schools in the Swansboro area, including Swansboro High School, Swansboro Middle, Queens Creek Elementary and Sand Ridge Elementary.

Email Zack Nally at zack@thenewstimes.com.

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