Recruit and Retain: The Future of Education

Security Guards in the Schools

The school security industry has been growing for many years. While high schools employ more security officers than any elementary or middle schools, there has been a tremendous rise in use of security staff in elementary school settings since the early 2000s.

In some cases, school systems are responding to community demand. One South Carolina district stated that having security staff at elementary schools had emerged as a priority at community meetings. Security staff would act as first responders and manage pedestrian and traffic safety as well as control access at the district’s elementary schools.

There has also been support from the government on the federal and state level, spurred by incidents of violence. The website of the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services highlights a grant program to help schools fund School Resource Officers and School Security Officers. Preference is given to schools that have none.

When it comes to long-term job prospects, there are some unknowns. It comes down to questions about policy and politics and research. Communities are responding differently in different parts of the country, and there can be changes from one year to the next.

Security officers may be armed or unarmed. There a lot of controversies surrounding the use of armed security guards.

One trend that can be expected to continue: an increased expectation for well-trained officers.

School Security Officer Roles

School security officers serve several purposes. They can respond to rare threats such as active shooter situations; thus they may give a sense of safety to parents and school personnel. Having someone on-site can mean a swifter response to incidents. One Connecticut district, placing a security officer into its high school in 2019, stated that the purpose was to deter and respond to low incidence high impact situations.

Security officers may be hired to control access, making sure that people who are on campus are authorized to be there. Sometimes it’s the security officer who carries the buzzer. Officers may monitor security cameras, report suspicious activity, and carry out other safety related duties. In some school districts, security officers assist with serious discipline issues; this is perhaps the most controversial duty.

One recent job posting stated that the security officer would count among his or her duties assisting in searching for students who did not make it home after school. Another stated that the officer would help manage traffic in the high school parking lot. School systems may provide security services for after-hours events. Some districts seek officers who can be involved in the school community on a deep level, doing everything from assisting with vulnerability assessments to providing safety training. In short, many schools like to have officers on hand for the big stuff. They also like to keep them busy ensuring student safety.

School Security Officers (SSOs) are private security workers. They are distinguished from School Resource Officers (SROs) who are sworn officers. Some districts have both.

Events of 2020 caused some districts to reconsider their police contracts. Private security didn’t have quite the same stigma as police; there has been less concern with contributing to a school-prison pipeline. Some have come out against having security officers in schools, stating that there is not clear evidence that they can prevent violence, and that they, too, can have a detrimental effect on morale. The APA is among them.

Some districts, though, have expressed confidence in their own trained security and safety officers. Moving into the 2020 – 2021 school year, some districts stated that they were moving police officers out of schools but private security would still be in. Denver Public Schools, for example, is phasing out School Resource Officers. There will be about 80 unarmed safety officers on staff for the 2021 – 2022 school year. The district cites successful training and students relationships. It put its safety officers to an unusual use in the pandemic: as paraprofessionals in special education classrooms.

Ponoma Unified School District (California) recently decided they didn’t what police officers in their schools. They would utilize proctors who had been trained in de-escalation. (The terms campus security assistant and proctor have sometimes been used interchangeably here.)

School Security Guard Training

Some states have mandated training for school security officers. The curriculum varies quite a bit.

California has a mandated curriculum for school security officers ( It is 24 hours and includes topics such as laws and liability, student behavior dynamics, and conflict resolution.

Washington State requires school safety and security staff to have training in 13 areas, among them, de-escalation techniques, trauma-informed practices, student Constitutional and civil rights, and disparities in arrest and use of force.

Virginia security officers pursue Virginia School Security Officers (VASSO) certification. Hires attend a two day course. Among the topics are role definition, due process, students with disabilities, students and gangs, and reporting student offenses. Employees are entered into a School Security Officer Database.

Pennsylvania requires school security officers and police officers to complete the same state curriculum. Among the topics are emergency operation plans, special needs, gang-related activity, the teenage brain, and mentorship and role modeling.

Individual districts also set standards for school-based security. They may seek prior related experience with youth. Ellington School District, for example, noted in a recent ad that they wanted experience working with school children (or youth and young adults between 13 and 21). They also wanted law enforcement experience or five years of security/ safety experience.