Kershaw County School District leaders discuss safety protocols after threat against Lugoff-Elgin High School

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Published: Aug. 9, 2022 at 8:52 PM EDT
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CAMDEN, S.C. (WIS) - Kershaw County School District leaders say the systems the district has in place to respond to school threats are working.

This comes after a social media threat was made against Lugoff-Elgin High School on Monday.

In a statement Monday night, district officials said after careful review by Kershaw County Sheriff’s Office investigators, it was determined there is “no validity” to the threat, and the account associated with it does not belong to a Lugoff-Elgin High School student.

While it is still an ongoing investigation, both Kershaw County Schools Superintendent Dr. Harrison Goodwin and Safety and Security Coordinator Doug Bowling say they had a “high confidence level” that students were entering a safe environment on Tuesday.

“We felt that we were very safe today,” Goodwin said.

Out of an abundance of caution, there was an additional officer at the high school Tuesday.

The district already deploys a school resource officer to each school.

Kershaw County School leaders say the district is uniquely positioned to respond to threats like this one.

This is because in addition to being the Safety and Security Coordinator, Bowling is also a uniformed deputy.

“What that allows me to do is to coordinate with not only our SROs within the school, but it also allows me to develop a plan of action within the Sheriff’s Office, bringing in investigators, bringing in additional resources that we may need to handle that situation,” he said.

Bowling said this plan of action goes into effect anytime a situation goes beyond the SRO level. In these instances, there is a county-wide response, he said.

As far as enhanced security measures, Goodwin said the district is in the process of upgrading camera systems at each school. Additionally, he said staff must stay vigilant about protocols that are already in place.

“It is the basics,” he said. “It’s making sure that the facilities are secure, that we restrict access to the buildings from outside people, but then we also follow up on any kind of leads that we have on possible threats and take all of those seriously.”

After a gunman opened fire outside Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School in the parking lot during dismissal last August, injuring three, the Orangeburg County School District installed metal detectors at every district school, including elementary schools.

Richland School District One tested metal detectors at select district schools’ last spring.

When asked about the status of those efforts for the 2022-2023 school year, the district said it is planning to purchase weapons detectors, pending board approval, for use in middle and high schools.

“In the meantime, we plan to continue random screenings as we did during the spring of the 2021-2022 school year,” Richland One Superintendent Dr. Craig Witherspoon said.

Goodwin said the current technology is “not as practical as somebody might think.”

“Metal detectors on a typical school setup are really cumbersome to do because you have so many entrances,” he said. “You have a car rider line entrance, you have a bus rider line entrance, you might have a staff entrance. So, you have all of those. So, the logistics of that, really the next generation is going to be artificial intelligence scanners for when folks come in. Of course, those are being used in a lot of public venues. That’s really going to be the next step.”

Bowling, who is also a Lugoff-Elgin High School parent, said he has confidence in the district’s safety protocols.

“Our processes work,” he said. “We have strong processes throughout each of our schools. When our processes are followed, we have safe environments for learning within our district. It’s important that all staff, it’s not just teachers, it’s not just principals, it’s not the SROs. It’s students, food service workers, custodial staff, everybody has to be on the same sheet that we’re following our processes to maximize safety.”

Bowling said schools in the district run lockdown drills multiple times throughout the school year. SROSs are trained all summer long to ensure their deputy skills are honed by the time school starts in the fall, he added.

There are also steps parents can take to help ensure the safety of their children while at school, Bowling said.

“Be involved in your child’s activities,” he said. “Know what they’re doing online. Check their phones.”

Bowling said parents should also talk to their children about responsible social media usage, and how quickly information that may be inaccurate can spread.

“Make them aware that it’s okay to report something,” he said. “It’s not just adults. Having the ability to say, ‘Hey, I’m concerned about this student, that’s important.’”

Goodwin said district staff are working to help students cope emotionally with school threats by providing mental health and behavioral health counseling in all district schools.

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