Student safety has been at the forefront of conversations that parents, teachers, and community members have had with me over the past several months. Understandably, since the shootings at Parkland, and before them, at Mother Emanuel Church, and before that, thermal events on our school buses, have forced our community to wrestle with hard questions: how do we ensure student and staff safety, while also ensuring we have a school that is inviting, engaging, and comfortable for learning and conversation?
Last month, I was invited by Gov McMaster to participate in the SC School Safety summit- each participant’s voice (from SLED, Mental Health, Education, Legislature) provided different ideas of ways to help address violence in our schools. SLED produced a report in 2014 and 2016 with specific recommendations. There is a host of evidence that supports the additional investment in school safety by trained professionals, an increase access to Mental Health services, a reduction in bullying/risky student behaviors, and increased training for ALL school employees and students to recognize potential risks would contribute to a safer learning environment for students.
The members of the SC General Assembly and US Congress were presented with a series of proposals including additional School Resource Officers, funding for metal detectors, policies to allow teachers/staff to carry firearms on school property, ability for school districts to contract safety/security functions to military retirees. Unfortunately, to date, no legislative action has been taken, and no additional funding has been allocated to help SC school districts ensure increased safety of South Carolina students and staff.
We cannot wait any longer for action- and so, the Greenville School Board has take several steps over the past few months to shore up student and staff safety measures. We will continue to work with the General Assembly and members of Congress on bills and policy recommendations, but we felt it was time for us to act where we can with the resources at our disposal. While some School Security actions taken are confidential, below is a summary of some of the action taken by the Greenville School Board and Superintendent:
- Replace 1995-1997 Buses: Approval of $1,620,000 from our General Fund Balance to replace all 1995-1997 Student Activity buses. Our Advocacy committee released a study of our bus fleet, and made recommendations for the removal of these buses that are prone to risk of fire. In our study we concluded that more than 3/4 of “thermal events” across the state were on these outdated 1995-1997 buses. We will replace all 1995-97 activity buses before the fall, and the SC Superintendent of Education has also agreed that all SC DOE 1995-97 buses will be off the road by December 2018.
- Security Camera Upgrade: Approval of $2,000,000 from our General Fund Balance to replace all Security Cameras across the district with HD Digital cameras. These cameras are monitored by District staff (in addition to school staff and SROs) and now link seamlessly with local law enforcement, so they can see live security camera footage when responding to a call from the school
- Additional Zone Patrol Officers: Approval of $300,000 from our General Fund Balance to add additional “zone patrol” officers. Each High School and Middle School has one or more School Resource Officers (SROs) stationed on site, all day. Zone Patrols are used for all elementary schools, and these funds ensure law enforcement officers are on site daily at each of our elementary schools.
- Enhancement of secured “catchment” areas: Each school is equipped with a catchment area, where visitors enter the school, are screened, and if approved, buzzed into the school. School security staff have made recommendations for some facility enhancements, and the board will receive a recommendation from the Superintendent for use of General Fund Balance to enhance security of these catchment areas.
- Safe Schools assessment: The Superintendent has asked local law enforcement to assist with assessing each school, using SafePlans, a nationally recognized school safety assessment tool. These community reports have been submitted to SafePlans and we expect plans will be reviewed with School and Administrative staff during the summer, with additional recommendations that could include facility enhancements, staff training, or additional security measures to be presented to board in Fall 2018.
I am confident that more action will follow. I expect the Greenville School Board to work with other school districts across SC to offer policy recommendations in the coming months. As always, if you have concerns, suggestions, or want to join the school board in this work, please contact me directly.