SDPC officials discuss school safety

By Nicole Daughhetee
Courier Staff

COUNTY — Following the tragic school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut, the School District of Pickens County wants to make certain that the children in our county are safe.

Student resource officers (SROs) are in position at the four high schools, five middle schools and Simpson Academy; however, at present none of the elementary schools in Pickens County have an SRO in place.

SDPC trustees, spearheaded by Ben Trotter, held a workshop on Monday, Feb. 11, designed to create collaboration between SDPC officials and local municipalities to ensure that the elementary-aged children throughout the district are protected and safe during school hours.

“Elementary schools are vulnerable, and we want to change that,” said Trotter. “We feel like SROs would make a huge difference deterring anyone from trying anything in the schools. Plus there is a trained person there should something happen.”

District leadership and superintendent Dr. Kelly Pew agreed with Trotter.

“Dr. Pew has written to the Legislative Delegation seeking funding to help place SROs in the elementary schools,” said John Eby, public information specialist for the SDPC. “While we are also in the process of updating the physical safety features of the schools, we feel that having an SRO in the school is the best safety measure available to our children.”

Like anything else, these safety measures will not come without a cost. The SDPC estimates that in the first year, for salaries alone, it might cost upwards of $720,000 to place SROs in each of the district’s 16 elementary schools. This estimate does not include benefits or potentially needed new police cruisers.

When asked about cost, Trotter said: “What is one child worth? The answer is it mine or yours? People in the community who don’t have children might not think funding the SROs is necessary. Ask the parents of these children what they think.”

Student safety, says Trotter, is not entirely the onus of the SDPC.
“The primary focus of the district is to educate our children,” said Trotter. “The police departments and deputies are sworn to serve and protect. Either way, the district is going to do whatever we have to do to protect our children.”

The thought behind collaborating with local law enforcement and municipalities to come up with a solution for preventing violence in schools is that the children who attend SDPC schools are not only part of the school district, but they are also part of the Pickens County community as a whole. If something like Sandy Hook were to take place at a school in the district it would impact all of Pickens County — not just one school or the SDPC.

Pickens County Sheriff Rick Clark, was at Monday night’s workshop along with Pickens Mayor David Owens and Liberty Mayor Michael Sherriff, County Council member Neil Smith, Major Tim Tollison of the Easley PD and Weldon Clark of the Pickens County Taxpayers’ Association.

Clark supports the idea that an officer at every elementary school is an effective deterrent to anyone attempting to inflict harm at a particular school, and says the sheriff’s office will work with the district in every way possible.

As for funding for the SROs, Clark said right now Pickens County will have to wait to “see what the state is going to do. Our future actions depend on what the state will do.”

Likewise, other municipalities are concerned about how these safety measures will be funded. While many questions were asked throughout the workshop, no one municipality made a commitment to anything other than to continue to examine the issue and talk with members of the legislative delegation in an attempt to gain funding for these safety initatives.