BEDFORD, Texas (CBSDFW.COM) – A few times this summer late at night, Mark Tooley’s phone rang.
It wasn’t family or the Bedford Police Department where he works as a school resource officer.
It was a student who just needed to talk.
Tooley expects there will be more of those conversations in the next few weeks when students finally begin to make their way back onto campuses after the longest period most of them have ever had away from school.
He headed back to HEB ISD’s Buinger Career and Tech High School campus this week.
Other officers will be back in middle school buildings next week, as police resume their positions after a spring and summer where the discussion of safety in schools went in a new direction, and the role of police in schools was debated.
Like a number of other districts HEB will have students begin virtually, with an option to return in person in September.
That means by the time kids are back in class, it will have been six months since some of them have been away from what used to be a daily interaction with an adult or role model they could trust.
“If they haven’t had that through when they released out of school in March last year, all the way through the summer, they’re going to be longing to talk to somebody,” Tooley said.
That role of a counselor and role model is part of what attracted new Bedford Police officers to school positions this year.
Onay Nunez and Lasedric Johnson were going through the application process for the job this spring, while the role of police in communities was being scrutinized.
For Johnson it just reinforced his desire to take the job.
“I can laugh, I can joke. I have kids as well. I connect with you. That’s the reason I wanted to get into it,” he said. “Without this uniform on I’m a human being as well. Letting them know that hey I’m here. Don’t fully just look at me as an officer and feel like you have to be afraid to come talk to me.”
Nunez agreed it would be an opportunity to bridge a gap between citizens and police.
Having grown up in Cuba, where law enforcement was only seen as authoritarian, he’s embracing a chance to give kids a different outlook here.
“We show them we are real humans, that we are not a robot with a uniform,” he said.
All three officers said they had been coordinating regularly with the district, and involved in planning to protect student health from COVID-19 as they return.
They were all confident that part of that healthy return to learning, includes having kids physically back on campuses.
“I understand that folks are scared, and we as parents, we are concerned as well,” Nunez said. But I believe the psychological part of child development in my opinion is more important than the risk.”