School resource officers

Danville District 118 School Resource Officers Danielle Lewallen and Josh Long, with the Danville Police Department, stand outside Danville High School recently.

DANVILLE — Next month will mark one year since some Danville students have had in-person learning in schools.

As Danville school officials continue making plans to bring students back safely for in-person learning due to the coronavirus pandemic, it’s been a year of adjustments too for the School Resource Officers (SROs).

SROs Josh Long, Danielle Lewallen and John McFarland have been focusing on the positives this school year in interacting more with elementary students, seeing students face-to-face when they’re conducting home visits and helping them with computer and other issues and also interacting with families at food distributions.

Normally Long is at North Ridge Middle School and Lewallen and McFarland are at Danville High School.

With COVID-19, Long has been assigned to Mark Denman Elementary School, McFarland at Meade Park Elementary and Lewellen remains at DHS where there are some in-person students at all three schools.

Typical Tuesdays for the SROs involves helping with the food distributions in the morning, going to their respective schools for the remainder of the day and then helping again with food distributions at night.

In addition to being in the elementary schools, instead of just responding to those schools when needed, the SROs also have been conducting home visits such as when remote learning students haven’t been logging in for school, and safety checks such as to verify who students are living with.

The officers also would go back to patrols at various times during the school year.

“Throughout the week we usually are meeting with the attendance monitors and home liaisons from the schools to go out and check in on students or contacting parents,” according to Long.

Lewallen said in some instances a teacher will see something on a student’s monitor, seeing something in the background at the student’s home, that the officers need to check on.

At the beginning of the school year, “they just were not logging in,” Long said of many students.

Attendance was down significantly for Danville District 118, but has improved since September.

The home visits are in conjunction working with the truancy officer.

“Attendance was awful,” Lewallen said about repeatedly missing students.

She said some students would say they just don’t like going to school. There’s been no structure or discipline for many students, Long and Lewallen said.

Long and Lewallen said they talk to the students about being held accountable and getting their computers turned on on time for classes.

Lewallen said remote learning has been a big change.

“I feel so bad for them,” she added.

She too wants to be back normally in schools.

Lewallen said in some cases, students are excelling and doing better with remote learning, being away from school distractions. She said they can work at their own pace.

“There’s both sides to it,” she said.

In cases where a student could be expelled or it’s not safe for them or everybody else for that student to be in school, virtual learning could help in the future to allow that student to stay current with school to still potentially graduate.

“Everyday is evolving,” Lewallen said.

She said they and the school district officials determine where the SROs are best needed.

Long said they are like staff members, being there for the students.

He and Lewallen said normally they’d be too busy at the high school and middle school. They’ve enjoyed spending time and connecting with the younger students one on one, and also getting to know parents instead of just talking on the phone with them.

Parents and guardians have told them it’s nice for the students to see police officers in a different environment and different role.

There’s been many positives, among the negatives, this school year, they said.

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