In the wake of a massacre at a south Florida high school where 17 people were killed, the Georgetown County School Board said it will take steps to increase school security.
"The time for wringing our hands is over," said Board Chairman Jim Dumm during a meeting Tuesday. He opened the meeting by reading a prepared statement.
“The carnage happening in our country has to stop,” Dumm said.
He noted that in the days after the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, students rallied and marched to demand action for school safety.
“They demanded our national politicians take decisive action,” Dumm said. “I strongly urge our students in our four high schools to join them.”
“I encourage every adult to write letters to (Senators) Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott and (U.S. Rep.) Tom Rice” and local political leaders, he said.
Dumm said, “We need to issue a call to action” for the safety of our students.
Board member Randy Walker said during the meeting that “We all received a lot of calls about Georgetown High School last week. We would like an update.”
That was a reference to incidents involving GHS and Andrews High on Feb. 16. Police investigated claims of threats against both schools made on social media. But officials said the claims were unsubstantiated. In the days after the school shooting in Florida, reports of copycat threats spread around the state and nation.
“I was really surprised at some of the behavior and statements – until I read the paper and saw this was a problem state-wide,” Superintendent Randy Dozier said. “We are reviewing our plans. I know the public wants us to keep them informed.”
He told board members and the public that the School District depends on law enforcement and other first responders to help assess situations. The recent incidents turned out OK, in large part because some students shared things they heard.
“I will tell you since the time it has happened, it has kept me awake,” Dozier said.
He said, “You will see much greater use of metal detectors. I’ve asked them to employ them every day. For the immediate future we are going to implement them more.”
“It’s labor intensive, and time intensive,” Dozier said. Schools in the district have been using metal detectors for years.
Later in the meeting, Dozier said the district may need to buy more metal detectors to help with screening. He noted that there are school resource officers at every high school and middle school in the county.
Mental health issues, other resources
The board also talked about the district's mental health services. Access to mental health treatment has, again, become a nationwide topic of discussion following the Florida shooting.
“What you don’t know about is we have mental health services at all of our schools,” Dozier told the School Board members. “We have behavior interventionists that work with mental health personnel.”
Additionally, Dozier said, the School District spent about $1.5 million last year hardening the fronts of schools.
“It’s never enough,” he continued. “If one person is injured, it’s never enough.”
There are security cameras at all schools, Dozier said. “Police, fire and emergency management services can look at TV cameras at any time of day.”
He’s also stressed that “If students see things, they report it. We investigate anything that is reported.”
Not just one thing
“Every one of those incidents – locally or nationally – we review,” Alan Walters, the district's director for safety and risk management, said. He spoke to the School Board and after the meeting to the Georgetown Times.
Walters referred to the Florida shooting, as well as the incidents at county schools.
He told board members he meets regularly with first responders in the county. The group includes Georgetown Police and Sheriff’s Office personnel, area fire departments and the county’s emergency management staff.
Walters said the Sheriff's Office had five investigators looking into the claims of threats at Andrews High. And he said the Georgetown Police Department also took the situation involving Georgetown High seriously.
"We give it our best effort, and try to do everything better," Walters said.
He noted that before the School Board meeting he saw one local TV news website had five incidents reported that day. “I think parents need to watch their student’s social media,” he said.
Dumm said, “You hit the nail on the head. Parents need to be aware of what their kids are doing. Our parents have to know, and be involved.”
Doing it for years
Dozier noted that Tuesday night was also the night for a basketball game between Carvers Bay High and Andrews High. “We have eight to 10 deputies at that game,” Dozier said. “We’ve been doing that for years.”
Metal detectors have been used at football and basketball games for at least a decade, Walters told the Georgetown Times.
Dozier, Dumm and Walters all said they welcome input from students, parents and the public in general. After the meeting, Walters said using metal detectors “takes a substantial amount of time.”
A bill filed in the state General Assembly called for metal detectors in every school, Walters said. The plan would cost $98 million, he said, and nobody had any idea how to fund it.
Both walk-through and hand-held metal detectors have been used at middle and high schools for years, Walters told reporters Tuesday night. Their use is intermittent, because of manpower requirements.
“Metal detectors will be used more in all middle schools and high schools," Walters said Wednesday. "Use will be determined by the schools as they are needed. We are not going to announce the schedule.”
He also said that crossing guards at schools are paid for four hours of work, though their duties don’t take that long. Going forward, he said, they will also check to make sure school doors are locked.
He said people with problems are often referred to mental health professionals.
“Even whey you make a referral for mental health, how do you make sure they are compliant,” he asked, “or have a support structure?”
Walters planned to go to a meeting Feb. 22 in Columbia with State Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman and other school safety personnel from around the state. This school safety roundtable has been meeting for some time and shares information and ideas.