By David Meade
With the Townville Elementary School shooting back in the news last week, students, parents and others in School District One were already feeling anxious. Then the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida happened, receiving non-stop media attention over the last week.
Anderson School District One Superintendent David Havird this week addressed those concerns and reassured students, parents and staff that “Schools are generally very safe places for children”
In a statement to The Journal, Havird said, “We all are saddened by last weeks tragedy at Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward County, Florida. I want to assure you that the number one priority for Anderson District One remains to create a safe learning environment for all our students, faculty and staff.”
“As we learn more about what happened in this horrible incident, it is always most appropriate to review and take a closer look at our safety and security procedures in Anderson District One. In order to maintain the safest environment for our students and employees, we do not normally discuss the details of many of these procedures. But I want to assure you that measures are in place and we re-assess them routinely, and we work closely with our law enforcement partners to ensure our efforts are well coordinated.”
School shootings like Columbine in 1999 and Sandy Hook in 2012, and more close to home, Townville Elementary last year, have prompted school officials to seriously evaluate how they can keep schools safe.
Over the last ten years, the Anderson School District One Board and Administration have made safety and security a priority, putting a number of enhanced safety measures in place. Many have been funded from the Local Option Sales Tax.
All of the district’s 14 schools have installed more secure access doors and visitors must be “buzzed in”.
Most of them have had the front entrances modified so that visitors must pass through the office to gain entrance.
According to Havird, more than 700 cameras and state of the art security systems have been installed in District One schools and more recently, cameras have been installed at all three high school stadium facilities.
In addition to facilities, other procedures and training have been put into effect.
At the beginning of the school year, a letter was sent to parents that states many of the measures the district has taken to provide a safe school climate.
Among them are adding more school resource officers (SRO), adding mental health professionals and A.L.I.C.E. training.
District One has eleven school resource officers. Six are full time and five are part time. All District One middle and high schools have had resource officers over the last six to eight years and more recently, four more have been assigned to elementary schools.
“All our schools have a certified, weapon carrying officer,” Havird said. “Our goal is to get fourteen fulltime SROs at all schools.”
District One also has a resource officer at the Anderson District One and Two Career & Technology Center.
“These officers provide a visible and welcoming presence at each of the district schools on a daily basis,” Havird said.
The District also provides violent intruder training for staff and students and a violent intruder drill in each of the schools.
The training procedure is known as A.L.I.C.E., an acronym for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate.
Havird said he and Assistant Superintendent Robbie Binnicker attended an A.L.I.C.E. training session in Texas approximately seven years ago and the program has been implemented in the district.
“We do it annually in our schools,” Havird said.
The training includes monitoring and improving safety plans, protocols and procedures which are followed for lockdown procedures in case of a violent intruder situation.
The plan allows students and staff to make informed decisions in a crisis situation and to remove as many people as possible from the “danger zone”.
The program also includes realistic training with local law enforcement.
Havird said the Anderson County Sheriff’s office and Williamston Police Department fully endorse and participate in all the training exercises. West Pelzer Police Department is also provided school safety plans
Binnicker said all staff and teachers in the district receive training. “We train all staff, cafeteria workers and bus drivers.”
School buses also have cameras and alert radios.
District One’s safety protocols include screening and monitoring school guests through an internet based check system in place for visitors, a thorough application process and SLED check system for volunteers.
One area of discussion, which continues to come up following a school shooting, is mental health.
Havird said the mental health is a big part of providing safety in schools.
The District has increased mental health professionals from three to six in the last couple of years with help from the State and Anderson County Mental Health.
“We saw that as a significant need several years ago,” Havird said. “We could use more.”
Identifying potential threats or problems before it gets to the school is something District One takes seriously.
“We want to stop it from happening before it gets to the school parking lot,” Havird said.
Havird said he wants parents to know, “We work daily on safety and school security. It is very challenging. We strive for balance with security and providing a normal school environment.”
“Violent intruder drills were added several years ago. We are very fortunate that we have few weapons in our schools. It is very rare,” Havird said.
Havird said parents can help by talking to their children about reporting threats and following safety protocols.
“We are very serious minded about student safety. That is why we have the alternative school,” Havird said.
“Please remind them if they see or hear something troubling – such as a weapon, angry conversations in person or on social media, suspicious behavior, etc. – they should report it to a trusted adult immediately. Additionally, remind them that pranks suggesting acts of violence are not funny. They are taken seriously and carry significant consequences for those involved.”
“Unfortunately, these mass shootings involving public schools have become a tragic reality and has occurred much too frequently for our nation to tolerate any longer,” Havird said. “This is the primary reason many school districts, including Anderson One, continue to prepare for the worse by doing the ALICE drills on an annual basis.”
“It’s time for some prudent and thoughtful action to end the violence. All of us must work to be part of the solution, from our students, families, faculty and staff, to our law enforcement partners, mental health counselors and system, and elected officials,” Havird said.
Havird said security will be a top priority in the upcoming budget for 2018-19 and in a bond referendum slated for 2019 for another building program.
The proposed building program will include major upgrades at Palmetto Middle and Wren Middle schools, both over 50 years old.
“We will try to design a new school, that is safe and secure in the future. Powdersville High School is very high tech,” he said.