Coalition calls for proactive, urgent action to bolster safety in SC schools

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Published: Aug. 26, 2022 at 6:49 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 26, 2022 at 7:07 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - A coalition of South Carolina teachers, doctors, and mental health professionals is calling for the state to be more proactive in ensuring schools are safe, saying South Carolina cannot wait until after a tragedy to bolster school safety.

The group, the South Carolina Coalition of Safer Schools, released its “School Safety Agenda” on Friday, which is months in the making.

It contains recommendations that the group — made up of the Palmetto State Teachers Association, SC Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, SC Counseling Association, SC Association of School Psychologists, and Institute for Child Success — believes can save lives and which, it said, are urgently needed.

“We believe that sitting back and waiting, and then when the tragedy happens, saying, ‘Well, you couldn’t have prevented that’ — that’s not acceptable to us,” Patrick Kelly of the Palmetto State Teachers Association said.

The agenda focuses on 10 policy areas, both in and out of schools, where it believes implementing its recommendations could save lives.

In schools, these areas are mental health resources, staffing and school resource officers, school facilities, mandatory responses, and research-based training and bullying prevention.

Recommendations within schools include policy changes to encourage more retired law enforcement officers to work in schools, school-based violence prevention programs, and installing classroom doors that automatically lock.

“Students can’t perform, and they can’t do the things we expect them to do if they feel unsafe,” 2023 South Carolina Teacher of the Year Deion Jamison said.

The agenda’s policy areas outside of schools are firearm theft, child access prevention, social media, community partnerships, and school safety center, with recommendations including increased penalties for people who steal guns — which already has bipartisan support at the State House — and the establishment of statewide school safety centers and tip hotlines.

“Children’s wellbeing is the lifeline and a measure of community wellbeing. Right now in South Carolina, by all measures, the children, unfortunately, are not that well,” Dr. Jeff Holloway, a pediatrician and member of the SC Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said.

The group all echoed what they say they have heard from students: that they don’t always feel safe at school.

And the coalition said it’s time that changed.

“Our students need help, and our teachers and our staff are not OK,” Lynn Collins of the SC Association of School Psychologists said.

“Our state constitution requires every child have access to a free education, but we, as members of the Coalition for Safer Schools in South Carolina, believe that that freedoms also incorporates the freedom to attend a school free of fear,” Kelly added.

Many of the recommendations would require action from the state legislature, which does not begin its next regular legislative session to consider these proposals until the start of 2023.

But the coalition said between now and then, it will work to keep growing its membership and make school safety a top agenda item ahead of November elections so that it’s top of mind come January.

Some of the recommendations are also actions that schools and school boards can directly take themselves.

For example, they include upgrading HVAC units in schools so that doors and windows can remain closed, not needing to let in a breeze, and prevent intruders.

Not among the coalition’s recommendations is arming teachers.

Kelly said when the Palmetto State Teachers Association surveyed its members, that was the one policy that a majority of teachers said would not be effective in keeping classrooms safe.

It’s also a policy that leaders from both parties at the State House have said they would not support.

“I’m trained with firearms,” Kelly said. “I cannot manage 30 people in a classroom and also be doing all the things that a highly trained law enforcement professional is supposed to be doing in securing a location.”

You can read the coalition’s full recommendations here:

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