Four Fort Mill elementary schools would be protected by armed guards if the Fort Mill school board moves forward with a proposal to hire private security officers.
Chairman Patrick White said the board has asked the administration to look into hiring private security protection for Doby’s Bridge, Orchard Park, Pleasant Knoll and Riverview elementary schools.
“We live in a world that’s a lot meaner than it seems like it was 20 years ago,” White said.
White said the district’s other elementary schools are on a dual campus with a middle school, where a school resource officer is stationed. That officer is available to the elementary school when needed, he said.
“We have four elementary schools that don’t enjoy that luxury, and they basically don’t have any type of security presence during the day because we don’t have any type of person there,” White said.
White said private security protection for the four elementary schools would be in addition to the school resource officers the district has at its middle and high schools through the Fort Mill and Tega Cay police departments.
Superintendent Chuck Epps said he is talking to several private security companies and plans to bring a proposed contract to the board to consider on Jan. 19.
Epps said he has not nailed down the cost. However, he said a private security guard would cost less than a school resource officer.
Epps said the security officers would not act as disciplinarians but would report to the principals. They would perform routine patrols, assist at arrival and departure times, work with law enforcement and investigate crime on school property.
“It’s just providing another level of security to our schools that do not have school resource officers” at nearby schools, Epps said. “We’re attempting to complement the school resource officer program.”
The use of private security guards stirred controvery last year in Chester County, when the school district hired a private firm to replace four deputies working as school resource officers with security guards.
Chester County Sheriff Alex Underwood criticized the move, saying security guards are less qualified than law officers and the move would make children less safe.
Maj. Bryan Zachary, public information officer for the Fort Mill Police Department, declined to comment on the proposed hiring of security guards at schools.
“We had no information with regard to the school district’s intention, so we’re not really in a position to comment,” Zachary said.
White said many security guards are retired military or law enforcement officers who are qualified in the use of firearms. Their pay is less because they don’t get a municipal retirement package, he said.
“If they are not qualified, we won’t hire them,” he said.
White said the security protection could prevent a crime.
“You don’t have to look very far across our country to see places where, if there had been armed guards, some of the catastrophes might have been avoided,” he said.
School board member Michele Branning said the use of security guards is a trial to see how well it works “but also to give some peace of mind and security at those schools.”
“The biggest thing is the climate that we’re in right now has changed so dramatically,” Branning said. “Why be reactive when we can be proactive?”
Jennifer Becknell: 803-329-4077