COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - School board members in Panama City, Florida are still shaken after a gunman opened fire at a meeting before taking his own life. The incident has raised concern about safety at Midlands school board meetings.
The headquarters of Richland School District One already has protection from closed-circuit cameras. Visitors also have their pictures taken at the front door.
But just inside the building is the meeting room for school board members. Those meetings put the board up close and personal with the public.
The public does not have to pass through any particular security screening for meetings. Chairman Vince Ford says he's very aware of that fact, especially after seeing video of the incident in Panama City.
"The unique thing that we do is we allow people to speak," said Ford. "That puts them in even closer proximity to us. We try to monitor that by knowing what they're going to speak on. Limiting their amount of time. And giving them instructions about you cannot throw out names or get personal."
Ford says about a decade ago, Richland One began a practice of having a security officer on hand for all meetings. "Only once or twice have we had to ask someone to not say certain things during the meeting," said Ford. "You want to offer public participation. That's one of the other aspects of school board service. To give the public a chance to come in and share what they want to share."
Lexington-Richland Five has had a more casual approach, usually calling in security only for large meetings and mostly for crowd control.
District officials say the actions of convicted stalker Clay Duke will likely lead to stationing an officer at all of the district's twice-monthly board meetings.
"Obviously, what we're talking about here is something beyond crowd control where the possibilities of some of these kinds of things happening here are certainly on folks' minds," said Lexington-Richland 5 spokesman Buddy Price. "And we may have to have somebody available to deal with issues certainly much greater than that."
Lexington-Richland 5 Board Chairman Robert Gantt said there's a certain "climate" now of public discourse that can lead to confrontation. He expects the district to bolster board meeting security in the very near future.