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Richland One Superintendent provides update on the testing of metal detectors in select schools

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Published: May. 13, 2022 at 9:14 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - A new pilot program is bringing metal detectors to select Richland School District One Schools.

Richland One Superintendent Dr. Craig Witherspoon said it’s “unfortunate” that the district even has to consider steps like this, but given incidents at district schools this year, they felt it was the right time to take a closer look at what this would look like in practice.

In March, a 15-year-old student at Lower Richland High School was found with a handgun on school grounds.

“Unfortunately there are events and things that happen in the community,” Witherspoon said. “Those things can and sometimes do bring situations to schools. So we want to be proactive in that. With that being said, and things that have happened, taking a look at this piece as well from a deterrent standpoint, preventative standpoint just given what’s been happening in our community and the community at large.”

The district is currently in the “fact-finding” and “information-gathering” stage, according to Witherspoon.

Witherspoon said these discussions have been ongoing since a student was stabbed at A.C. Flora High School in February of 2019.

Richland One is less than a month into the pilot program.

Nine middle schools and seven high schools are participating. However, the metal detectors are not stationary at these schools; rather, they move from school to school depending on the day.

“This pilot was designed that the device and the process does move around to give us information on how it works in larger schools, smaller schools, different configurations, and all of that information will be reviewed at the end of the year and see what decisions we make moving forward,” Witherspoon said.

In the fall, the district could continue the random approach or possibly expand the use of metal detectors.

Richland One declined to name the participating schools, citing safety and security reasons.

Witherspoon said he understands some may be concerned about potential long lines and delays that this could cause, and the district is looking into how to staff accordingly.

“Part of the pilot also is from a staffing standpoint, the team that’s working on this, what size should that team be to move this as fast as it perhaps can be to not have those delays?” he said. “Also looking at the newer equipment that is out there that could move this process a lot faster as well to alleviate those delays. And again, that’s a part of the fact-finding.”

Since the district began testing the use of metal detectors, two Richland One students have lost their lives to gun violence. Though these incidents did not on school grounds, Witherspoon says these tragedies weigh on his mind when making decisions about school safety.

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“That’s been sad and quite frankly heartbreaking as we finish out the year from school, high school, middle school or at any level, elementary,” he said. “We should be talking about students and what they’re doing in the future, what are their next steps in life, how to move forward, what can we do to support, but a sad reality is we have to confront these things.”

Through the pilot of this technology, no guns have been found, but several knives and other items in violation of the student code of conduct have been located.

However, earlier this week a 14-year-old St. Andrews Middle School student was arrested after bringing a handgun to school.

Witherspoon said that feedback has been mixed. Some parents have asked why the district did not take this step sooner, while others do not feel this is necessary.

Orangeburg County Schools implemented metal detectors at all district schools following a shooting in the parking lot of Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School in August.

The Richland School District Two board has also discussed the possibility of metal detectors.

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