Deputies to return to Chester County schools

Both the Chester County Council and the Chester County school board have approved a plan to allow county sheriff’s deputies to serve as school resource officers at the county’s three high schools. We hope deputies will be walking the halls of those schools soon.

The agreement would place a deputy as a resource officer at Chester, Lewisville and Great Falls high schools. The schools also would be served by Defender Security, a private firm that has guards in all the district’s schools except Great Falls High and a security chief who oversees the company’s operations throughout the district. School officials hope Defender Security also will provide an officer at Great Falls High this week.

Under the agreement between the county and school district, they would split the cost of the three deputies. But while both the council and the school board have approved the deal, school officials haven’t signed it, so, as of Tuesday, officers were not patrolling the schools.

Both sides might have to iron out some concerns about the logistics of this arrangement. For example, Chester County schools Superintendent Angela Bain said the district wants some input regarding which deputies are assigned to the high schools. She thinks each principal should have a say in the matter “to ensure the officer is a good fit for the school.”

We see no reason why Sheriff Alex Underwood should not agree to that. While the deputies are employees of his office and he is in charge of assigning their duties, he could consult with school officials about officers without relinquishing his authority as sheriff in any way.

Bain also has asked that the district be informed by the sheriff about the resolution of any complaints involving a school resource officer so the principal can share that information with parents. Underwood said he is reluctant to talk about what he considers personnel matters with an outside agency.

“If anybody has an issue with a sheriff’s deputy, they need to talk to the sheriff,” he said.

That seems reasonable if the resolution is strictly a personnel matter. However, actions such as the firing of a deputy would be a matter of public record. We hope both school district officials and the sheriff can communicate as openly as possible so that parents can be fully informed about any incidents involving their children.

But we are confident these issues can be resolved and that deputies once more will be serving as school resource officers. We hope this also represents the end of a nasty political spat between former Superintendent Agnes Slayman and the sheriff’s office.

Slayman, who resigned under pressure last year after district employees testified that she had created a hostile work environment, was largely responsible for replacing the deputies with private resource officers in 2015. At the time, critics, including Underwood, noted that the private officers did not have the training or the equivalent authority to make arrests that county deputies did.

We think stationing deputies at the high schools will increase order and security while also reassuring parents about the safety of their children. Safe schools are critical to the county’s efforts to attract development and other new investment in the county.

We think the renewal of this cooperative arrangement between the school district and the sheriff’s office is good news all concerned.