Starting this fall, all S.C. public school students will go through one active-shooter and intruder drill each semester. And their teachers will receive active-shooter and security training at least twice a year.
The new guidelines — set forth by a new state law, authored by state Sen. Greg Hembree, R-Horry, with input from the State Law Enforcement Division — were sent to all S.C. school district superintendents and principals on Monday.
Those instructions came a week after the state received 67 applications for more money — from a $2 million pot set aside by the state — for school districts to hire new school resource officers.
South Carolina is not alone. Nationwide, school leaders have wrestled with how to make students and teachers safer after 17 Parkland, Fla., high school students and staff were killed by a gunman on Valentine’s Day. Two months later, 10 students and teachers at a Santa Fe, Texas, high school were killed.
In South Carolina this year — a state still reeling from the 2016 fatal shooting of Townville Elementary School student Jacob Hall — several school districts have implemented their own safety policies.
For example, officials at Lexington 2 school district — which already holds district-wide monthly intruder lockdown drills — are implementing a new key-card entry system for teachers and staff. The district also is in the process of installing high-impact resistant window glass at some schools.
This year, the Richland 2 school district reorganized its security staff to make sure security personnel are present at any school that lacks a full-time SRO. Since the last school year, the district has required active-shooter and intruder drills each semester.
After the Parkland shooting, Beaufort County School District decided to hold three active-shooter drills each school year, one of which would occur during an “inconvenient time” — for instance, during school lunch or breaks between classes.
The district now also requires its high school students to wear a school photo ID on a lanyard around their necks.
“It does two things: allows the staff at the school to know whether someone is a student, and if a student is unresponsive, emergency responders can easily know the student’s identity,” said district spokesman Jim Foster.
School safety changes this year are part of a broader, statewide effort to curtail potential school violence.
In March, Republican Gov. Henry McMaster called a summit in Columbia to address school safety and what gaps might exist, including a state shortage of mental-health professionals.
Since then, “we’ve been working real closely with the state Department of Education to ... create a response to the shortage of mental-health support in schools,” said Allison Farrell, head of school mental health for the S.C. Department of Mental Health.
By 2020, the agency’s goal is to give every S.C. student and school access to mental-health services and programs, she said.
In March, Farrell said there were more than 350 mental-health professionals embedded in more than 640 schools across the state. This school year, Farrell said the agency hopes to reach another 50 S.C. schools.
“We’ve had great response and support from the South Carolina community,” Farrell said. “For clinicians, it’s a rewarding feeling you get ... by working in the schools.”