The Georgetown County School Board is expected to vote Tuesday night on a proposal for additional funding that would allow school resource officers to be placed in the district’s nine elementary schools and Waccamaw Intermediate School for the remainder of this school year.
Superintendent Randy Dozier is seeking $150,000 to hire SROs to be in the schools for as many hours each day as possible. SROs already are assigned to the district’s four high schools and four middle schools, and Dozier said the district also tries to provide some coverage for Howard Adult Center.
“For all of our schools, security is our top priority, and we have a number of security plans in place,” Dozier said. “Our goal is to have a uniform presence with a fully certified officer at all locations all the time.”
School districts around the nation have been examining their school security plans following the Dec. 14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., where a gunman killed 26 people, mostly students, before turning the gun on himself. The event has sparked debate on school security, including the arming of teachers and administrators.
The district already randomly uses metal detectors and drug dogs at all of the schools, even the elementary schools so students will be exposed to the process, Dozier said. Security is added for sporting events, he said, as well as for other large gatherings, such as activities around the holidays.
Dozier said the majority of SRO costs come out of the district’s budget because previous SRO grants have expired, and in addition to security, there is a need for mental health counselors and additional guidance counselors. He said school administrators and local police already are proactive when they suspect a problem and don’t wait for a child’s frustration to turn into a real threat.
“People don’t realize how often they’ve gone to the home to talk to the child and the parent, and that goes a long way for folks to know we’re going to intervene,” said Dozier, who said legislators need to participate and help schools fund security as well as needed counseling services.
“There clearly has to be a partnership with the state and at the federal level. You have to provide grant money if you’re going to make security a top priority.”
The state Senate Education Committee has taken some steps in that direction and has scheduled a meeting for Thursday morning in Columbia to gather information on safety in the state’s schools and to determine what improvements, if any, are needed. The panel has invited state schools Superintendent Mick Zais, SLED Chief Mark Keel, Department of Public Safety Director Leroy Smith and Julie Carullo, acting executive director of the S.C. Commission on Higher Education, to speak.
Georgetown school board Secretary Sarah Elliott, District 1, said enough can never be done when it comes to school safety.
“In light of what’s happening around the country, we should do everything in our power to keep our children safe,” Elliott said. “Certainly, I would be very much in favor of [funding more SROs].”
Elliott said she thinks her fellow board members will agree, and it’s definitely necessary to continue tweaking school safety plans – “It’s just an ongoing thing.”