Education Professors Provide De-Escalation Training to School Officers

A view of South Hall in the spring.

South Hall, in which the Ella Cline Shear School of Education is located. (SUNY Geneseo/Keith Walters '11)

Two School of Education professors with expertise in behavior and conflict resolution recently provided training to school resource officers with tools to de-escalate classroom situations. Associate Professor Annmarie Urso and Associate Professor Michael Rozalski conducted focus groups to determine needs, then in-person training. Nine of the 12 school resource deputies in Steuben County attended, as well as four officers from other police agencies. 

Steuben County Sheriff Jim Allard requested the training to provide more tools to officers in a role that is vital to fostering a relationship between the community and law enforcement, says Undersheriff John McNelis. 

“We see the training as an additional resource that we bring to school leaders. Schools present unique challenges by the nature of their diversity and the individual needs of the children. This training gives officers a tool to deal with those needs in a situationally appropriate manner,” says McNelis. “It was important that our partners be local and understand local challenges. SUNY Geneseo seemed like a natural fit. It has always enjoyed a reputation as one of the leaders in developing future educators. We felt that in order to offer the best course, we should partner with the best instructors.”

Urso was a special education teacher working with children with learning and emotional disorders prior to earning her doctorate. She holds a certificate as a behavior support specialist in the state of Arizona. Prior to receiving his PhD from the University of South Carolina, Rozalski taught and worked with students with behavioral disorders from grades K–12 in a variety of settings, including self-contained and resource classrooms, special day schools, wilderness programs, and a residential treatment center.

School officers are trained to respond to a conflict or situation in schools between students, says Rozalski. De-escalation uses communication techniques to try to prevent potential situations from becoming something more, such as a physical fight or verbal altercation. It’s especially important, say Rozalski and Urso, for the increasing number of children identified with having communication issues due to stress or trauma and for children who do not process information in a typical way. As officers use de-escalation tools, they are also modeling behaviors students can adopt, says Urso. Officer training included debriefing skills to look at successes and opportunities for improvement after an incident or over time.

Geneseo students studying to become K–12 teachers learn de-escalation techniques and theories in special education and early childhood classroom management classes taught by Urso and Rozalski. The resource officers are modeling behaviors to de-escalate a conflict.

McNelis said the Steuben County Sheriff’s Office is interested in providing de-escalation and additional training throughout the state.“We want school resource deputies and officers to have the tools and training to respond in the most socially responsible and professional way possible,” he says.


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