Durham County

City, schools officials at odds. Reasons for G.R.E.A.T. program’s demise differ

A protester holds up a sign opposing school resource officers in schools at a City Council work session on Thursday, July 27, 2017.
A protester holds up a sign opposing school resource officers in schools at a City Council work session on Thursday, July 27, 2017. vbridges@heraldsun.com

Durham city and school officials continue to provide differing accounts about why the Gang Resistance Education And Training program is being pulled from some public schools.

Durham Public Schools Superintendent Bert L’Homme told the City Council Thursday that he and others sat down with city and county officials. Part of the discussion centered on police officers continuing to have a presence at four middle schools and Durham School of the Arts and administering the anti-gang program known as G.R.E.A.T. there and at 17 other schools.

However, when school officials outlined what the officers were doing, Durham Police Chief C.J. Davis indicated that the officers were performing school resource officer duties, L’Homme said.

GREAT officers typically visit a school, teach the curriculum and leave, but these officers remained in the schools throughout the day and provided a variety of services. Tina Ingram, the school district’s director of security, said G.R.E.A.T. officers have essentially been providing the same services for the past 15 years. Other services included breaking up fights and monitoring the halls, school officials said.

L’Homme said the school system would like to keep the officers in school and continue to have the G.R.E.A.T. curriculum.

The discussion among city, county and public schools officials then evolved into whether it would be more appropriate for the Durham County Sheriff’s Office to provide school resource officers since it provides that service to other public schools in the district, L’Homme said.

However, county officials indicated it would take time to get funding and take other actions to get those deputies in the schools.

City Manager Tom Bonfield then moved forward with an agreement that allowed city officers to remain in the schools a year as school resource officers to give the county time to respond, L’Homme said.

Bonfield, however, doesn’t remember the conversation unfolding that way, he said.

School officials’ communications indicated they wanted officers at the five schools full time and then asked that other officers administer the GREAT program and other services at other schools.

School officials’ comments indicated they were more interested in the officers presence at the schools to provide services other than the G.R.E.A.T. program, Bonfield said.

“It wasn’t about the G.R.E.A.T. program,” Bonfield said.

The city then agreed to provide the officers at the five schools for a year, but would reallocate the other officers in the program to provide other community services.

Councilwoman Jillian Johnson shared her concerns about the shift on Facebook earlier this week, which launched a debate on whether officers in local schools is leading to the criminalization of students who are misbehaving in middle schools.

On Thursday individuals opposing officers in schools filled the chambers in which elected leaders met. Some held signs indicating that policing doesn’t equal safety.

L’Homme also told the City Council that both parents and students want officers in schools, but assured elected officials that the school system has been been rolling out policies that promote restorative justice and diversion programs.

He said that about 90 percent of the students who are arrested are diverted from the criminal justice program.

Ultimately, the City Council didn’t take any action to change the memorandum that Bonfield agreed on.

In other business, Michael J Martino, general manager for the Sheraton Imperial Hotel and Convention Center, urged the City Council to consider taking action to pass a local ordinance to allow restaurants and grocery stores to sell adult beverages before 10 a.m. on Sunday.

City Council members said they planned to go through the standard process and pass the change the policy at the regular meeting on Aug. 7.

Virginia Bridges: 919-829-8924, @virginiabridges