There was more of a security presence at schools in Horry and Georgetown counties Monday, as teachers and administrators went about the business of making the day as normal as possible in the wake of the recent shooting in a Connecticut school where 26 people, mostly students, were killed.
Daryl Brown, executive director of security for Horry County Schools, said area police departments were asked to increase patrols around schools this week. He said the district has a comprehensive safety plan, but principals are evaluating the crisis management plans at their schools, as well as paying attention to things such as keeping doors locked.
“When you have a tragedy, it causes people to be uneasy,” said Brown, who said he received a few calls from concerned parents. “We will just keep evaluating, keep looking and strengthening our security.”
Uniform patrol officers from the Horry County Police Department were at all Horry County jurisdiction elementary schools Monday during the morning drop-off time, said Sgt. Robert Kegler, public information officer for Horry County police. He said school resource officers would be vigilant as always, and that patrols would continue when officers weren’t responding to active calls.
At Socastee Elementary School, Principal Deb Colliver said the officer’s presence was reassuring to parents at her school, where she instructed staff not to discuss the incident as a class.
“It’s too real right now,” said Colliver, who now carries her cell phone wherever she goes. “Right now, we’re just assuring the children that we’re safe here. My job is to make it a safe, happy place to be.”
The Conway Police Department also had an officer at each of its elementary schools in the morning, and the sergeant over the SROs will be in and out of those schools during the week, said Catina Hipp, department spokeswoman. Extra officers were not assigned specifically for the schools within the Myrtle Beach city limits, said Capt. David Knipes, public information officer for the Myrtle Beach Police Department, but patrols were directed to be visible around the schools if not otherwise engaged.
SROs are assigned to all of the district’s middle and high schools. Metal detectors went into daily use at those schools in fall 2010, and implementation is at the discretion of school administration.
Police presence also was increased at schools in the Georgetown County School District, and will continue to be this week, especially in the mornings and sometimes through the day, said Superintendent Randy Dozier.
He said the increased awareness already had been planned because of the extra visitors the schools have for holiday events, and the action may continue after students return from winter break on Jan. 2. Dozier said the district also hires retired administrators as monitors for events, which adds trained personnel at some schools.
There was no noticeable change in attendance Monday, according to PowerSchool data from the district collected at the end of the school day. While many parents were upset by the tragedy, they believe their children are as safe as they can be in their schools.
“I feel confident in the security measures being taken and that what’s in place is strong,” said Sunshine Blevins of Nichols, who has a son in fourth grade at Green Sea Floyds Elementary School and a daughter in sixth grade at Green Sea Floyds Middle and High School. “When there’s somebody who’s mentally ill and on a mission to kill, I don’t feel like they could’ve done any more to stop him … I feel like [my kids are] safe – you have to show ID, the doors are locked, you have to be buzzed in – but in some situations, nothing can help.”
Eileen Kim’s daughter is in second grade at Myrtle Beach Elementary School, and she said she thinks the schools are taking all the right steps, although some events just can’t be predicted. She said in general, she is very impressed with the Myrtle Beach school system, but a parent’s best protection is to get involved in the schools and community to learn about the environment, and many aren’t as some family values disappear.
“I don’t want to live my life in fear, and I don’t want my child to feel that way,” Kim said, “but it’s scarier for parents who don’t feel connected. We have a relatively wholesome environment – if I didn’t feel that way, she wouldn’t be there.”
Charles Belissary, whose children attend Myrtle Beach Middle and High schools, said the district does a tremendous amount in the way of security already, and he feels sure officials will take a second look at procedures and do what is humanly possible. He said as a parent, he does feel some things are missing, that society has worked aggressively to take God out of the public schools so children don’t understand a higher power, and that there may not be enough guidance counselors to provide mental health services.
“I do believe physically we do a pretty good job, and I know some of these principals who would easily lay down their lives for the kids like [the Sandy Hook principal],” Belissary said, “but are we really understanding all the issues?”