NORFOLK -- The Norfolk School Board voted unanimously on Wednesday to allow school security officers to continue to use OC spray when they have reasonable cause to believe it's necessary.

'We feel very comfortable that we're doing what's best and safe for all of our students and staff,' Chairman Dr. Kirk Houston, Sr. told 13News.

Board members agreed that OC spray, when it is needed, is a much safer way of putting an end to a conflict than other, potentially more physical means.

Within a week's time in October, guards used the spray to end fights at 3 schools: Lafayette-Winona Middle, Blair Middle, and Granby High. The incidents called attention to the policy, which Norfolk Public Schools reviewed, checking practices in other divisions in Virginia and across the country. Locally, NPS remains the only school division that allows security guards to use pepper spray on students. Guards are trained in its proper use.

'The use of it has been very minimal, only in extreme cases,' said Houston, 'and there is no evidence that it showed it has caused any serious health problems for our children.'

The school system says it uses positive behavior programs in many schools, and is studying how to roll such programs out division wide beginning in the 2012-2013 school year.

The goal is to resolve conflicts in a very non-disruptive way.

The division is taking additional steps to ensure that non-physical intervention is part of the culture for all staff members. 10 staff members were given intensive training from January 10 through January 13 in crisis prevention and intervention techniques.

On January 27, the staff experts will begin to train a group of 150 staff members including security officers and assistant principals in ways to de-escalate situations before they reach a crisis level.

Proper use of the OC spray will continue to be part of the annual training for security officers with an emphasis on using the minimal force necessary to control situations in schools.

The school board will review the division's practices and procedures regarding OC spray again in June.

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