Sessions Defends President to School Resource Officers

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is not backing down -- at least not in front of the police officers in charge of protecting schools across the nation.

This week, Sessions helped present awards to this year's National School Resource Officer of the Year and two National Award of Valor winners while urging the 1,000-plus SROs and school administrators in attendance at NASRO's annual conference to stand behind the current administration's efforts to prosecute people who enter or stay in the United States illegally. Outside of the Reno, NV hotel where the top Department of Justice official spoke, an estimated 300 to 500 people protested, hoping (unsuccessfully) to block Sessions' access to the event.

The protesters were calling for a stop to the Trump administration's recent decision to separate immigrant parents and their children even as Sessions forcefully defended those policies. "The president has made this clear. We are going to continue to prosecute those adults who enter here illegally. We are going to do everything in our power, however, to avoid separating families."

Calling the situation "difficult and frustrating," Sessions told attendees, "I have spent hours, days, months, working with Homeland Security, working with Border Patrol [and its Immigration and Customs Enforcement] (ICE), trying to deal with the problems created within our systems; and lawyers over the years have developed more and more clever ways to frustrate the normal, expected enforcement of these laws."

According to Sessions, some 80 percent of children crossing the borders were "coming by themselves without parents or guardians." He asserted that drug cartels were using these children "to smuggle drugs into our country."

"This is not fair to the children you serve," Sessions said. "What is the compassionate and right thing to do? The compassionate thing, I believe, to do is to protect our children from drugs and violence and put criminals in jail and protect our borders."

He gave the packed audience a quick education in the 1997 Flores v. Reno settlement, which, as a Time magazine article recently explained, requires detained minors to be placed in the "least restrictive setting appropriate" and for immigration officials to release those under 18 "without unnecessary delay" to relatives or other "custodians." In the recent order Trump signed to keep families together in detention, he also "ordered" the attorney general to do what he could to change the rules of Flores. As attorneys for the government wrote in their filing, "Under current law and legal rulings ... it is not possible for the U.S. government to detain families together during the pendency of their immigration proceedings." Because of the ruling, they noted, ICE is forced into one of two positions: to release all families or detain just the parents, which separates the family.

Sessions emphasized that it was time for Congress to move. "While we want to keep these families together, we need Congress to act. We really do."

While the attorney general didn't explicitly mention the equally contentious issue of arming teachers and others in school, Sessions did reference "offering firearms training, as you requested." He also alluded to passage of the STOP School Violence Act, signed shortly after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that left 17 dead. The act authorized $50 million per year to create an "anonymous reporting system" for potential threats that would include smartphone apps, hotlines and websites; would invest in school security infrastructure; and would support training of law enforcement people, teachers and students to prevent violence.

Sessions also used the event to announce $25 million in national grants for "better training and technology to improve emergency reporting and $2 million in funding to the state of Nevada "to help rebuild after the October shooting in Las Vegas."

"President Trump is the strongest supporter of school resource officers that has ever sat in the White House," Sessions said. "This is an administration that understands and values the safety that you provide our children. At the direction of President Trump, the entire government has put needed attention on this issue. We at the department are investing in you in many ways and in particular by providing funding for cities and states to hire school resource officers."

Sessions received several standing ovations from many of those in attendance -- as did the SRO heroes who were recognized by the national association.

The Floyd Ledbetter National School Resource Officer of the Year Award was given to Officer Marvin Tevaga, of the Maui Police Department, Wailuku, HI, serving at King Kekaulike High School. The award recognizes a school resource officer who has made "specific and significant contributions" to the local community and school district.

In August, 2015 Tevaga initiated CPR on a "pulseless" student. Four minutes later, the student resumed breathing on his own. Tevaga has also led numerous school traffic-safety awareness and education programs, including campaigns to promote awareness of distracted driving dangers and pursuing several search warrants, all against adults later charged with selling drugs to juveniles.

NASRO also awarded its National Award of Valor to two SROs in recognition of specific acts of courage and valor. Deputy Blaine Gaskill in Maryland's St. Mary's County Sheriff's Office was recognized for his courage in confronting a gunman who had fired a shot in the hallway of Great Mills High School in March. The gunman then moved down a connecting hallway, where Gaskill confronted him and fired one shot, striking the gunman's hand as the gunman simultaneously fatally shot himself.

In April Deputy Jimmy Long of Marion County Sheriff's Department in Ocala, FL pursued a 19-year-old man allegedly carrying a sawed-off shotgun into an Ocala high school. The perpetrator had fired one shot through a classroom door, entered another classroom and began talking to a teacher, when Long rushed into that classroom and quickly handcuffed the suspect.

The National Association of School Resource Officers is a nonprofit association for school-based law enforcement officers, school administrators and school security and safety professionals.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.