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Criminal justice training simulators and proposed Forsyth County school calendar changes: 2 things you should know from the March BOE work session
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Members of the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office’s crime scene unit, Breanna Reeves and Mariko Fujimura, take turns at the wheel of a DORON driving simulator that has been training local deputies for the last several weeks. - photo by Alexander Popp

At the March work session of the Forsyth County Schools Board of Education, board members were first presented with a proposal by Associate Superintendent of Teaching and Learning Fonda Harrison which would make several small changes to student calendars that were previously approved by the board in November 2018.

According to Harrison, the proposed changes would add a professional learning day for both the 2019-20 and 2020-21 school years and would shorten each school year by one day.

Harrison said that with the many initiatives and programs that require professional learning for Forsyth County teachers and staff, an additional day of pre-planning would benefit the system greatly.

Documents on the Board of Education website state that this proposed amendment would move the last day of the first semester in the 2019-20 school year from Dec. 20 to Dec. 19, 2019; and would move the first day of school for the 2020-21 school year from Aug. 5 to Aug. 6, 2020.

Harrison said that even with a reduction in the total number of student days from 179 to 178, the system is still well above the minimum state standards.

She said that they will bring the amendment back to the board for a vote during its regular March meeting on March 19.


Criminal justice training simulators

At Tuesday’s meeting, Forsyth County Schools Director of College and Career Development Valery Lowe and Forsyth County Sheriff Ron Freeman presented the board with their plan for a "unique" community partnership between the school system and the Forsyth County Sheriff's Office which would give students at Alliance Academy access to new computerized training simulators on law enforcement fundamentals.

Freeman praised previous partnerships that the two entities had embarked on, like the school resource officer program and the School Safety Initiative, and said that with the creation of Alliance Academy, they are hoping to someday recruit and work with young criminal justice students at the school.

"If we're going to attract young people into the criminal justice field, particularly the law enforcement field ... one of the things we have to do is make it fun, but we have to make it real life for them, let them see a little bit about what's coming forward if they choose this pathway," Freeman said. "Use of a simulator is fun, it's educational (but) it's not a toy, it's not a game.”

Freeman said that their idea is to make Alliance Academy the permanent home for one of his training simulators, so that criminal justice pathway students can use it during their coursework and in off times his deputies can train on it.

One caveat that Freeman was quick to address was that the simulators involve the use of real guns, which have been modified to only shoot a laser.

“You cannot un-modify them, outside of a machine shop and a machine tool, to accept any sort of live ammunition or shoot," Freeman said. "It is physically impossible they could ever be a real gun again."

Beyond that, he said that there would also be strict controls and trainings in place for the weapons at the school.

Freeman said the computer simulators would not be teaching students to shoot and kill, but rather how to employ their training and judgment in a scenario to de-escalate situations.

"Each one of these scenarios have an opportunity where the instructor can take it one of maybe 10 or 15 or 20 different directions," he said. "We're teaching the student how to talk to people, we're teaching the student how to react in a critical situation.”

Both entities are in the process of coordinating how the partnership would work, Lowe said, but they think they are on track to implement the program in the fall of 2019.

But before that happens, she said that they still have a number of things to prepare, including teacher trainings with the sheriff’s office, sending letters to Alliance Academy parents and holding pathway orientation sessions.