Horry school board to cautiously reassess school safety needs

01/02/2013 8:58 PM

01/04/2013 10:07 AM

MYRTLE BEACH Most of Horry County’s school board members say they have had few, if any, calls from constituents about school safety since the Dec. 14 school shooting in Connecticut, but they will reassess the safety measures that already are in place when the board reconvenes later this month.

Incoming Board Chairman Joe DeFeo said it hasn’t been decided whether that discussion will be held in open or executive session, but board members said it’s all about being realistic and level-headed when examining what is already in place.

Horry County Schools students return Thursday from winter break less than a month after a gunman killed 26 people, mostly students, at Sandy Hook Elementary School before turning a gun on himself. The event happened just days before district schools went on holiday and was followed by calls across the nation for and against arming school teachers and administrators in the interest of added security.

“We have to take a step back because emotions after Connecticut cloud our judgment,” said Harvey Eisner, District 1, who is opposed to teachers having guns in the schools. “It’s very heart-wrenching to see children hurt in that way, but we shouldn’t just jump on the bandwagon. We need to analyze everything.”

Neil James, District 10, and John Poston, District 8, said they wouldn’t be opposed to having some school personnel armed if that was deemed necessary to keep students safe, but Poston doesn’t believe that is the answer. Neither wants the board to make any kneejerk decisions, and James said he wants the board to be cautious and conservative in its approach.

“If there was a need, I’d support it, but I don’t think that’s probably a solution,” Poston said. “You have to ask yourself, ‘Why are we doing it?’ I feel like our schools are as safe as they reasonably can be, but life is going to happen.”

School resource officers currently are assigned to all of the district’s middle and high schools, where metal detectors are in daily use, and implemented at the discretion of school administration. SROs are not assigned to elementary schools, although they had a police presence in the days after the shooting.

Karen McIlrath, District 2, said the one call she did receive concerned adding officers at the elementary level, and David Cox, District 9, said his calls came from grandparents who care for their smaller grandchildren and are concerned for their safety.

“I’ve had quite a few people who would like to see more resource officers even in the schools that have them now,” said Kay Loftus, District 4. “It’s such a shame. We don’t want schools to be a prison, they’re a place to go and learn. We’re there to educate them, but we’ve got to protect them as well.”

Adding additional SROs anywhere would cost money at a time when funding is tight, and Loftus said that would mean more taxes, which no one wants. DeFeo, who is a former N.J. police officer and a S.C. constable, said the schools already have employees who are former military and police officers, and he can see how arming certain personnel could be a viable option under certain conditions controlled by school districts.

“I don’t see how we could afford to have police officers in every school,” DeFeo said. “In Texas, teachers are considered the first line of defense. This is not a new idea. It is for South Carolina.”

McIlrath said she wasn’t ready to talk more about safety options until the board meets, and Jeffrey Garland, the new District 11 representative, said he has to get up to speed with his new job, although he hasn’t heard any comments from people in his district. Pam Timms, District 6, and new representatives Janice Morreale, District 5, and Janet Graham, District 7, couldn’t be reached for comment.

Poston said this is a good time to look at the district and determine if it is as safe as it can be, although he said he doesn’t know if there’s any one thing that can be done to cover everything.

“The bigger question for me is, ‘How did that kid get to such a dark place?” Poston said. “I ask that about incidents that have happened here … Maybe we can do a better job of identifying them. How did they get to that place, and can we help them not to go there?”

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