Roanoke Co. School Board approves controversial library policy, extra SROs

ROANOKE COUNTY, Va. (WFXR) — Thursday night’s Roanoke County School Board meeting resulted in the approval of several new policies, including ones involving library books and school resource officers (SROs).

The new library policy for Roanoke County Public Schools requires two librarians or staff members to read proposed additions to the library. Then, additional school staff look over those reviews before any books can hit the shelves.

During the public comment period of the meeting on Thursday, June 23, parents said that the policy hinders diversity and creates hours of additional work for librarians.

School board member Cheryl Facciani argued that “not all of these books, but some of these books” that focus on sexual diversity include explicit content.

Despite the conversation with community members at the meeting, school officials had already passed the policy with a unanimous decision during a work session.

According to David Linden, chair of the Roanoke County School Board, the previous policy — which required just one set of eyes to approve a book — was at least seven years old and “outdated,” but he says they’re open to continuing dialogue about the new policy.

Another decision from Thursday night’s meeting involved the approval of six new SROs for the county’s elementary schools. As a result, eight SROs will oversee 16 Roanoke County elementary schools, with Linden saying the move means the county is “halfway there.”

“We’d like to see all 16 of our elementary schools have them, but we’re a whole lot closer now than we were previously,” he said.

The change was made in collaboration with the Roanoke County Sheriff’s Office, which first made the proposal in 2019.

“That plan would be to utilize either retired or currently active law enforcement officers on a part-time basis,” explained Roanoke County Sheriff Joseph E. Orange.

Linden says the plan was brought to the school board after the Parkland school shooting, but the board was under budget constraints at the time. In addition, staffing shortages in the Roanoke County Police Department, which provides the SROs for the middle and high schools, reportedly made it hard to add security at the elementary level.

“The sheriff’s department, as well, is down. I don’t believe they’re completely staffed,” Linden said. “We’re going to use retired SROs or retired sheriff’s deputies who can retire at a fairly early age, and we’re excited to be able to get a little more safety in our schools.”

The approved policy requires a $180,000 budget for salary, training, equipment, and vehicles. Roanoke County Public Schools Superintendent Ken Nicely says they plan to pull those funds from personnel, but they will be requesting reimbursement from the county.

As for the sheriff of Roanoke County, he says he hopes elementary schools will be staffed with SROs before the start of the academic year.

One parent who spoke with WFXR News outside the meeting says she’s unsure how she feels about the policy, but she expects it to be a topic of public comment at the next meeting in July.

Meanwhile, there was a third decision made by the Roanoke County School Board that impacts middle school sports, with board members saying they were excited to approve sixth graders’ participation in middle school athletics starting in the 2022-2023 school year.

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