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SHIPROCK — The Central Consolidated School District and the Navajo Nation signed its first agreement to have Navajo police officers assigned to schools in Shiprock and Newcomb.

Officials from the school district and the tribe met on Aug. 26 to ceremoniously sign the memorandum of understanding that places two officers from the Shiprock Police District at Shiprock and Newcomb high schools during regular school days starting Aug. 6 to May 24, 2020.

Candice Thompson, director of operations for CCSD, said the agreement took two years to come to fruition due to steps taken to comply with federal, state and tribal laws.

"When we came to the table, we had naysayers on each side that told us that this agreement could never be done. We were spinning our wheels, but nobody at the table gave up," Thompson said adding Navajo Police Chief Phillip Francisco and his staff was committed to the task.

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said the tribe would like to emulate similar agreements with school districts that operate on tribal land.

"This document will be a model for other school districts to follow because it brings school resource officers into the school facilities," he said.

CCSD will pay approximately $139,500 to the Navajo Police Department to cover salary costs and equipment for the officers, according to the agreement.

In an interview after the event, Thompson explained that due to the size of the district – which Superintendent Terri Benn said covers 3,000 square miles – the need for officers to quickly respond to situations was concerning, especially after the December 2017 shooting that claimed two students at Aztec High School.

"If we were to have the same incident here, it would be a long time before we had officers on site," she said adding the agreement locks down at least one officer to promptly respond to disturbances.

The agreement follows the pilot project the school district had for a school resource officer in Shiprock last school year.

Officer Dejuan Tolth served in the project and has been assigned this school year to oversee the elementary, middle and high schools in Shiprock.

"For me to be there, it's to make sure they're in a safe environment," Tolth said in an interview.

Officer James Hale is assigned to Newcomb High School, in addition to overseeing Newcomb middle and elementary schools and the elementary schools in Naschitti and Ojo Amarillo.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-546-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

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