While we certainly understand the desire to ensure children are 100% safe while at school, the reality is that isn’t possible anywhere. That is not something that most people want to discuss but it is the reality of the world we live in. Our school system places a great deal of emphasis on school safety. The best resource for prevention is an involved parent and students that understand the importance of immediately reporting suspicious activity, anyone suspected of possessing a weapon, threats, etc. As well as positive relationships between students, school personnel, and campus deputies.
Sheriff Alfonzo Williams was the former School Safety Chief for the Richmond County Board of Education prior to becoming the Sheriff of Burke County. Chief Deputy Lewis Blanchard was a prior Campus Police Chief for the Columbia County Board of Education. Both take school safety very seriously and have years of training in this specific area. Together, they meet often with school administrators and have worked to help ensure the BCBOE uses the best practices possible.
The Burke County School System has implemented the following safety measures in addition to other initiatives:
- Provides for 6 full time LEO’s working within the system and 1 teacher in the high school that is a Reserve Deputy with BCSO who teaches Law Enforcement studies.
- Provided school safety and active shooter training for all employees to include custodians, cafeteria staff, teachers, administrators, secretaries, etc.
- Provides metal detectors for use at various times throughout the day and during peak entry times within the school system.
- Exterior doors are kept locked during the school hours, parents and visitors must request access to enter the building via the video call system that is located outside the main entrance at each school. This provides for better controlled access to all school buildings.
- Written school safety plans and procedures based on Standard Response Protocols national guidelines for response to various situations; when to place schools on lock down, the type of lock down to implement, and when to notify parents of incidents depending on the type of incident or threat, etc.
- Cameras are in place within the schools that assist in deterring problems and record violations.
- The use of BCSO K-9’s to conduct random sniffs by trained K-9’s that are able to detect drugs, guns, and/or other potential illegal items on a school campus.
- Provides emergency buttons within the classrooms and a comprehensive safety plan covering most any emergency that could occur on campus.
- Maintains a BCSO Dispatch Radio for each school for instant contact with Law Enforcement and a panic button to reduce response times in an emergency.
- Brought in consultants over the summer from Safe School Solutions that toured all campuses and discussed strategies with the staff regarding weapons and other situations that could arise on a campus as well as the use of technology to help reduce possible situations and immediately began a plan of implementation.
- Had the School Resource Deputy of the Year for the National School Safety Council provide 3 days of training to school safety personnel and all of the Deputies that work within the school system each day as well as many Deputies who would respond during an emergency.
The Burke County Sheriff’s Office provides extensive training for the Deputies who work in the school system to include specialized training regarding when to use a lock out or lock down or deal with an issue without a lock down. The final decision rests with school administrators who have also undergone training on these issues and is often made as a joint decision in the best interest of all students. We understand that some parents will fill the need to be notified immediately of any and all situations but that goes against standards and professional recommendations. Parents will always be notified by the school system but the timing will depend on the situation at hand.
Much discussion has revolved around metal detectors, which are a very small part of an overall security plan. Logistically, you will never be able to properly and fully secure a school through the use of metal detectors. The number of employees to have school entry points covered at all times, even after school has started would be astronomical. Then, you have special events, after school activities, etc., which would all require the same amount of personnel. That being said, metal detectors are one more tool in the tool box to deter persons from brining a weapon on campus. However, metal detectors are a complex issue as students are required to attend school and have certain rights that protect them from unreasonable search. While some parents will deem it appropriate to search every time a metal detector alerts even on a low setting, others will complain or even sue for their child being searched when nothing is found or a pack of cigarettes with a foil wrapping is found. Most schools do not have or use metal detectors but some do, primarily in the high school environment where nationally 9% use metal detection randomly. Some use them daily at main entrances, some use them one or two days per week with change in frequency and the day selected. There are very few schools that use or could afford to provide for metal detectors and personnel to be used for all persons entering a campus and even if they could, the number of parents against such action often exceeds those who support it. There is no cookie-cutter security system that will perfectly secure every campus in America. Day-to-day use of metal detectors is the exception, not the rule, in the majority of U.S. schools. However, they are used in some larger urban districts with a history of chronic weapon offenses. Metal detectors are often brought up by parents and the media after high-profile school violence incidents. Officials must assess their vulnerabilities and use their limited resources in a way that best fits their institution’s needs. For additional information on the use of metal detectors in schools, please visit: http://www.schoolsecurity.org/trends/school-metal-detectors/
BCSO Deputies and BCBOE Employees all have students within the school system and therefore have a vested interest to ensure the schools are safe as possible while also ensuring the rights of students are maintained. We work together yearly reviewing policies, procedures, training, response, etc. to ensure we are following the best standards possible. At the end of the day, the best way to prevent incidents on a school campus is through positive relationships, which our Deputies and the BOE employees strive daily to accomplish.
Parents should speak often with their children about school safety, reporting suspicious activity, reporting possible weapons on campus, etc. as well as ensuring children do not have access to weapons to the best of their ability. There is no easy answer to school security but together, we can all work towards ensuring our schools are as safe as possible.
We hope this information provides everyone with a better understanding of what is being done to ensure school safety. For additional information on school safety, please visit: http://www.schoolsafety.us/