Lexington-Richland 5 adds weapons detectors for visitors at all schools this fall

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Published: Aug. 11, 2022 at 8:05 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 11, 2022 at 11:29 PM EDT
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IRMO, S.C. (WIS) - Through the use of new technology, Lexington-Richland School District is adding another layer of protection on campuses this fall.

When school year begins next Tuesday, visitors to campuses across Lexington-Richland 5 will now have to walk through new OpenGate Weapons Detection Systems.

“It’s important now to be able to provide multiple layers of protection for your schools,” Lexington-Richland 5 Superintendent Dr. Akil said. “This allows us to screen effectively and efficiently.”

This technology scans visitors quickly, and the devices will beep and turn red if they detect any type of weapon or sharp object.

“We are funneling visitors to one point of entry in all of our facilities and it’s at that point that the OpenGates will be deployed,” Ross said. “And we use that with staffing to ensure that someone’s monitoring that while it’s in use, but if you want access to our buildings, to our students and staff, you will pass through that OpenGate Weapons Detection System.”

The devices will be monitored by district staff, and not school resource officers.

District leadership worked closely with Scott Ellis of University of South Carolina Law Enforcement and Safety Department before implementing the technology. These devices are the same ones used at UofSC sporting events.

Lexington-Richland 5 has also consulted with the Irmo Police Department, Lexington and Richland County Sheriff’s Departments, Chief Mark Keel of the South Carolina Law Enforcement and Special Agent Brandon Lackey of the Violence Reduction Unit of the Federal Bureau of Investigation about its safety protocols.

Students will not be scanned with this technology, though the district does plan to expand this technology for use at its middle and high schools.

“Our long-term goal is to make sure, and we don’t know exactly when we’ll be there, but we’re working toward that every day, is that every person who enters the building has that level of screening,” Ross said. “We’re not at that point at this time, but we’re excited because we’re further along to that point than we were just before July.”

The district invested more than $430,000 to secure devices for the visitors’ entrance for each school and office building. An expansion that would incorporate students would require additional funds, Ross said.

“Throughout the district we have 1,545 doors, exterior doors,” he said. “Providing an OpenGate for all of those would be a huge investment. So we have to be very strategic about how we, one, secure those doors. And then two, how we have supervision to monitor such systems like the OpenGate.”

Due to staffing shortages within LCSD, five elementary schools in the district will not have a uniformed deputy on campus to begin the year.

Those are Leaphart Elementary School, Nursery Road Elementary School, Seven Oaks Elementary School Piney Woods Elementary School and Chapin Elementary School.

Lexington-Richland 5 has contracted with a private security firm to provide armed guards at those schools for the time being.

Ross said the district wanted to prioritize placing SROs in the secondary schools for now, and put the armed guards with the younger children.

“We’re using them at the elementary schools because while they still have those responsibilities as our Class 1 deputies, they’re not SROs,” he said. “At the high schools and middle schools, we have more student to student issues where we need that SRO there.”

WIS asked LCSD for a timeline on when those guards would be replaced with SROs.

LCSD spokesman Captain Adam Myrick said the agency cannot release specifics related to SRO coverage for security reasons, but said in a statement: “Like virtually every other law enforcement agency around the country, we’re experiencing challenges when it comes to staffing. We have openings of various types across the agency, including school resource officer. There are several newly hired deputies who will be permanently assigned to an SRO role after onboarding in the coming weeks. In the meantime, we’re leveraging a new $5,000 new hire incentive and an increased starting salary structure up to $50,444 to bring in new deputies, including those interested in serving as school resource officers.”

As part of its efforts to keep students safe, Lexington-Richland 5 has an app called STOPit, which allows students to report things like threats, bullying or weapons. The app is monitored 24 hours a day and seven days a week.

Ross said the district views safety and security on school campuses through the prism of communication, compartmentalization and awareness.

He said those protocols are constantly evolving.

“Understand we’ve learned a lot about school safety, and we’ll continue to learn, but we want our children to come and we want them to feel excited about the first day,” he said.

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