Lexington County schools addressing security concerns in various ways

tflach@thestate.comJune 15, 2013 

— Lexington County schools are adding security for elementary classrooms in different ways.

Officials in Lexington-Richland 5 are looking at bringing school resource officers on board in the coming year for each of its 12 elementary schools and opening at least two substations for deputies on or near the facilities.

Meanwhile, Lexington 1 is hiring off-duty deputies and police officers to drop in daily on its 16 elementary schools in Gilbert, Lexington, Oak Grove, Pelion and Red Bank.

And Lexington 2 is mulling ideas to provide a police presence in its nine schools in Cayce, Pine Ridge South Congaree, Springdale and West Columbia.

The mixed approach comes after local law enforcement leaders urged better security for the youngest students, following December’s school shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., that killed 26, including 20 students.

Police already staff most middle and high schools. But serious discipline problems – particularly those involving weapons – are rare for elementary students in all county schools, according to reports to state education officials.

Educators didn’t get the increase in state school aid designed to provide one school resource officer in every elementary setting, forcing county schools to devise separate strategies amid tight finances.

“We will continue to use whatever resources are made available to us to safeguard school children,” Lexington County Sheriff James Metts said.

Lexington-Richland 5 is preparing to raise taxes on businesses partly to help pay for the new school cops in classrooms in Chapin, Irmo, Dutch Fork, Harbison and St. Andrews, a step that could win final approval Monday.

“There is nothing more important than the safety and security of our children,” superintendent Stephen Hefner said. “We must do all we can to prevent future tragedies in our schools.”

School officials elsewhere in the county say the maximum tax hike allowed by a state cap is insufficient to pay for new officers.

Daily drop-ins by deputies and municipal police officers are beneficial, officials in Lexington 1 say.

The visits will be irregular, not at the same time and not the same officers.

The arrangement will get students and staff “more comfortable” with security, Lexington 1 spokeswoman Mary Beth Hill said.

Lexington 2 may rely on a blend of full- and part-time help.

“We are in the process of trying to get a safety person on each campus,” assistant superintendent Jim Hinton said. “It could be different situation at each.”

Reach Flach at (803) 771-8483.

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