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“One of the most important things we do is protect children,” Berkeley County Sheriff Duane Lewis said at an active shooter seminar held recently at Philip Simmons High School.
The program was planned well in advance of, but held after, a highly publicized incident at PSHS involving a lockdown and confiscation of three guns on the high school campus. Nearby Philip Simmons middle and elementary schools were also placed on lockdown in connection with the situation.
That lockdown ended peacefully after administrators and school resource officer Deputy Cephus Rogers acted swiftly on information received from a student.
“SROs have one of the most important jobs in law enforcement,” Lewis said, as he emphasized the time and money put into training and equipping SROs.
Brian Fenton, security & emergency management investigator for the Berkeley County School District, explained that the district has extensive plans in place to deal with a multitude of emergency situations and works closely with law enforcement, fire department and EMS to review and update plans as new research and information is obtained.
SROs receive a wide-range of training from their individual law enforcement departments and from the district. Currently, 38 SROs are assigned to all high schools and middle schools and to several elementary schools in BCSD.
Each school practices lockdown and intruder drills as well as drills relating to fire and other disasters. Teachers are taught to recognize the sound of gunshots.
Fenton said the drills are important, “So when something bad happens, you go on autopilot.”
The district also implements a variety of physical security at schools, including fences, video surveillance and measures designed to limit access to school campuses.
Fenton explained that random searches of students are also conducted to deter criminal behavior, including random K9 searches. He said that they haven’t found any weapons “yet” and believes the searches are an effective deterrent.
The district also provides an anonymous tip line 855-657-2948 and a reporting tool app that can be downloaded from the BCSD website.
BCSD employs a third party monitoring system that scans key words and photos on students’ district network accounts, including Chromebooks issued by the district. This system allows BCSD to identify early warning signs and swiftly respond to incidents concerning student mental health or safety, no matter the day or time.
In response to a question from the audience, Fenton said that the district does not currently utilize metal detectors. BCSD school board member Mac McQuillin said that he’d like to see PSHS serve as a test site for implementing metal detectors in the district as soon as possible.
Lewis said he is not against metal detectors but cautioned that they can give a false sense of security because students bypass them and that they must be manned by a fully trained law enforcement officer.
Molly Geare, a parent of a Philip Simmons Elementary School student, noted her biggest takeaway from the presentation, “I really honestly feel like Berkeley County is very prepared – they prepare their SROs, their faculty, their staff – which is very comforting.”
Sarah West, also a PSES parent and PTA board member, agreed, adding, “I think that in situations like this it is important for us to look at the positives – the things that were done properly, commend the people that protect our children every day and have these conversations with our kids at home. If you see something, say something and it has to start with our kids being aware of that because this is what happened a couple of weeks ago and that’s what saved that situation from being tragic”