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Resource officer will patrol the halls of West Hernando

Pupils at West Hernando Middle School will see a new face on campus today.

It won't belong to a pupil or a teacher or an administrator, but to a Hernando County sheriff's deputy.

West Hernando will get its first school resource officer after the staff and school advisory council recently decided one was needed.

The decision came several months after the School Board approved funding for resource officers at all three Hernando middle schools.

At the time, none of the middle school principals marked their calendars for the arrival of their officer. Instead, they wanted to wait a while and consider other options for handling discipline problems.

In West Hernando's case, principal Dennis McGeehan said his staff wanted to know more about the resource officer program before agreeing to it.

"They wanted someone from the sheriff's office to come and answer their questions about what a resource officer does, how long will he be on campus, that kind of thing," he said.

A representative from the sheriff's office met with the staff last month.

When asked what he thought about having an officer on school grounds, McGeehan replied, "I think the decision is fine."

McGeehan says the decision was based partly on the fact that violence in schools is increasing across the country.

"It's a sign of the times within our society," McGeehan said, "and we need to prepare for those types of situations when they arise."

West Hernando has had a series of "situations" in recent months.

Since the beginning of the school year, several pupils have been expelled for possession of guns and for other conduct problems. The School Board is scheduled to expel another pupil Tuesday.

Just last week, an eighth-grader was slashed on his arm with a knife by a fellow pupil for no apparent reason. The boy who committed the act was charged with aggravated battery and possession of a weapon on school property.

As for the other middle schools, the staff and parents of Parrott Middle School decided two months ago to place a resource officer on campus. Powell Middle School will not have one. School officials did not return calls last week to explain what Powell will do with its money.

The district's high schools have had resource officers since 1989, and Sheriff Tom Mylander has wanted to place officers in the middle schools as well.

The program, designed to be a link between students and law enforcement, has been successful in demonstrating that officers can be teachers and friends to students.

Initially, neither the school district nor the sheriff had the money to pay for the officers. The two split the cost of the high school officers.

In the fall, the School Board gave each school $50,000 to pay for an officer's salary, his or her uniform, and the gas and maintenance of a patrol car.