Posted: Monday, January 28, 2013

School System Continues to Enhance Security

OpEd – The Greenville News, Sunday, January 27, 2013

School System Continues to Enhance Security
Chuck Saylors, Board Chairman, and W. Burke Royster, Superintendent

The heroic actions of teachers and staff at Sandy Hook Elementary underscore the devotion educators have for the children in our care, and are evidence of the training provided in preparation for emergencies.  Since the tragedy, the issue of school security has been at the forefront of our nation’s consciousness, but educators have long been focused on protecting students from dangerous situations.

In reality, the challenge is balancing security with a school environment that promotes community and parent involvement.  If security was our only mission, we would build schools like prisons and utilize similar protocols, but this is neither a practical nor desirable solution.

Instead, for many years, Greenville County Schools (GCS) had in place a comprehensive approach to school safety, utilizing a crisis plan that includes the prevention of, preparedness for, response to, and aftercare for almost any situation.  This already strong plan was greatly enhanced in 2008 when we received a Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools (REMS) grant. A retired FBI special agent oversaw the grant, and worked to expand and enhance our plan with local law enforcement, fire chiefs, emergency management personnel, and other professionals in crisis prevention and response.

Built on a National Response Model utilizing the common language and framework of the National Incident Management System (NIMS), our plan is updated, reviewed, and tested (using drills) on a regular basis at both the district and school levels.  Revised “best practices,” law enforcement recommendations, drill and crisis debriefing sessions, and incidents that occur within our district and across the nation contribute to plan revisions. For example, based on recommended best practices, every GCS school constructed since 2000 and the vast majority of renovations in the same time period include building entrances with “capture areas” that limit access. As an additional measure, from 2004-2006 telephones were installed in every classroom.

Though these and other safeguards were already in place prior to Sandy Hook, we have taken additional steps over the past month to further protect our students and personnel. To safeguard their effectiveness many security measures remain confidential, but we are able to share the following:

  • Zoned Security Patrols - Last week we announced a partnership with law enforcement that significantly enhances security across the district by utilizing off-duty officers to patrol, multiple times each day and on a random schedule, our schools and centers that do not have an on-campus security presence.  All middle and high schools already have dedicated school resource officers (SROs) on campus.
  • On-Site Review - Our administrative staff spent three days in December visiting schools and scrutinizing precautions. From these visits and similar ones by law enforcement, recommendations were developed to enhance security, particularly at school entrances.  Recommendations include changes to procedures at some schools, facility upgrades at others, and revised protocols.
  • Multiple Methods of Emergency Communications – Every GCS facility has multiple methods and locations to communicate an emergency situation to law enforcement or other emergency response agencies (i.e. phones in every classroom, two-way radios, etc.).
  • Enhanced Training – School front office staff and administrative personnel will receive crisis intervention training to help prevent conflicts from escalating into violence.  The opportunity to receive this training will also be available to all personnel through summer professional development.
  • Increased Vigilance - School security enhancements, scenarios, and appropriate responses have been reviewed and emphasized. Though a gunman is fresh in our mind, we must prepare for multiple situations, so our best defense is a strong security plan boosted by vigilance on the part of teachers, administrators, staff, and students.
  • Additional Professional Review - Our plan has been thoroughly vetted numerous times by law enforcement and emergency management personnel, but in light of the specifics of the Sandy Hook tragedy, we are facilitating an additional outside review by professionals in crisis management.

Plans and protocols that promote safety and security in our schools were in place well before last month’s tragedy, but we can never over-emphasize the importance of safeguarding students.  The Board of Trustees and administration will continue to focus on enhancing security measures and to consider alternatives to reduce risks to our students and personnel. As part of that effort, we ask for the support of the community.  Anyone who has knowledge of a credible threat should immediately contact law enforcement or the school’s administration.  Anyone visiting our schools who recognizes a weakness in building security, a breakdown in following protocols, or has an idea that will enhance security is encouraged to contact our School Safety and Emergency Preparedness Office at 452-SAFE (7233) or safeandsecure@greenville.k12.sc.us.  Working together, we can successfully integrate effective school security with a warm and nurturing learning environment.


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