By Hugh G. Willett
Thursday, September 8, 2011
Following an incident last month at a middle school, Loudon County Schools has implemented a policy prohibiting county jail inmates from working in county schools while children are present.
Loudon County Schools Director Jason Vance confirmed that inmates from the county jail were used Aug. 19 to provide labor at North Middle School in Lenoir City while students were there.
"We had a couple of prisoners come out to the school to help move some furniture," he said.
Authorities acknowledge some parents have complained about the practice. Standard operating procedure has been to use inmates to do work at the schools only when children were not present, Vance said.
A new school resource officer did not know that inmates were not supposed to be in the school when children were present, Vance said. The incident was the result of a miscommunication, he said.
"It is unacceptable to me to have them there with the children," Vance said.
The inmates on work detail last month were moving furniture in the school resource officer's office. Resource officers are Loudon County Sheriff's Department deputies on assignment.
Using "qualified" inmates with the skills for painting and general building maintenance saves money that can be applied toward improving student achievement, Vance said.
School board member Van Shaver said he thought it is inappropriate for inmates to work at the schools while children are in attendance. He said he was confident Vance had dealt with the matter.
Scott Newman, school board chairman and a former school resource officer, said the practice of using inmates at the schools has been going on for years. They've been cleared for work release because of good conduct are not felons or serious criminals, Newman said. In the specific case that happened in August, both the North Middle resource officer and one of the inmates on the work detail have children who attend the school, he said.
Several parents of children attending North Middle said they had complained to the central office last week and on previous occasions when inmates were in the schools. The parents said they were afraid to be quoted in the newspaper.
Loudon County Sheriff Tim Guider said he had received at least one written complaint from a parent at North Middle School.
Guider said requests for help from inmates on work detail are made by the school system. His deputies do not have specific policies preventing them from allowing inmates in the school while children are present, but they are expected to use their own judgment.
"We're not going to send anybody into the school that we think would be a problem," Guider said. "They are under constant supervision."