The first Citizen Advisory Group for School Safety meeting took place Wednesday night at the School District of Osceola County in response to an incident between School Resource Officer Deputy Ethan Fournier from the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office, and 16-year-old female student Taylor Bracey, from Liberty High School in Kissimmee.

Osceola County School Board member Julius Melendez decided to form the Citizen Advisory Group so community members could discuss how to improve school safety and review the school district’s policies for School Resource Officers.

Advisory Group

After introductions of the group’s members, the discussion focused primarily on training and was led off with a presentation from Kissimmee Police Chief Jeff O’Dell whose law enforcement agency is one of three that provides SROs to the district. The other two being the St. Cloud Police Department and the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office.

Chief O’Dell explained to the group that his SROs are well trained in mental health and de-escalation techniques, and defensive tactics. “Our SROs are full-time law enforcement just like anyone else so they can transfer to any other unit within our agency, so they get the same training as any other officer.”

“We demand that our officers take a personal interest in the students as well as their activities in the school and they can also be a resource to the teachers and the administration at the school, the KPD Chief added.”

The group also heard from the school district’s supervisor of their behavioral programs, Yolanda Rodriguez who said she has spent fifteen years working with staff preparing them for students who are in “full crisis” mode, and how to act with these students without becoming physical with them. She manages the district’s CPI program, non-violent crisis intervention. Rodriguez explained that the goal is to de-escalate a crisis by using verbal de-escalation techniques and to help the staff evaluate the likelihood of a crisis.

The group discussed sending out surveys to the students and staff in order to better understand the perception of the SRO program.

Melendez informed the citizen advisory group that he had invited the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office to the advisory meeting, but the department declined. He did say that the Sheriff’s Office intends to be a part of another meeting that will include the school district and all three local law enforcement agencies that provide SROs to the district.

Melendez hopes to meet again within the next 2 weeks to begin drafting a policy that could be brought to the school board for their consideration.