Rock Hill schools to invest $2.3 million in safety

scetrone@heraldonline.comJanuary 28, 2013 

— Rock Hill schools will spend more than $2.3 million over the next three years to make schools safer.

The seven-member school board voted unanimously Monday to follow recommendations from Safe Havens International, a security consulting firm the district hired to evaluate crisis readiness and safety at its 27 schools and eight support facilities.

After finding a host of issues, the firm submitted a 63-page report urging district leaders to tighten security, strengthen safety plans and better train employees to respond to crises.

The school board agreed to spend $2,338,000 to follow most of Safe Havens’ recommendations.

“We don’t have anything more important than protecting our students and our faculties in schools,” school board member Walter Brown said.

The decision comes just over a month after a gunman shot his way into Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., and murdered 20 first-graders and six educators.

While Rock Hill school officials hired Safe Havens months before the Sandy Hook massacre, school safety has received heightened scrutiny in the weeks since the tragedy.

School board Chairman Jim Vining praised Superintendent Lynn Moody and Risk Manager Laney Burris for the review.

“Whether it’s financial, environmental or safety, you need audits,” he said.

The money for the projects will come from $5 million in district reserves, which the school board voted last fall to put aside for construction and technology needs.

Some of the projects include:

• $744,000: Upgrade visitor screening systems at schools.

• $390,000: Secure entrances at seven elementary schools and three middle schools.

• $364,705: Install and upgrade surveillance cameras at schools and stadiums.

• $22,000: Create a more robust safety drill program.

• $4,000: Provide high-visibility safety vests for administrators to wear when outside on campus.

Safe Havens already has started teaching a team of Rock Hill school employees to train district staff in security measures.

“This is a greater shift in the behavior in our schools than we currently know,” school board member Jane Sharp said.

It would take a leader with “gravitas” to follow up on some of the recommendations, such as ensuring schools keep doors locked and follow all safety precautions, Sharp said.

“It’s not just a one-year change,” she said. “We’ve got to change some kinds of attitude.”

It’s not clear whether the district will add employees to its risk management department as Safe Havens recommended.

When school board member Ginny Moe asked district officials whether they planned to bolster the department with more staff, Associate Superintendent Anthony Cox said that would probably come up for discussion later this year.

He said that Safe Havens didn’t make a specific recommendation about staffing.

But according to the firm’s report, a copy of which was obtained by The Herald, Safe Havens did make a recommendation: “The district should increase the current staffing level and improve the present structure.”

Analysts found that Burris alone oversees security strategy, emergency preparedness, risk management, general liability, property and casualty, civil lawsuits and the student insurance program.

They wrote, “Many of the opportunities for improvement we have identified would likely have already been found and corrected if this were not the case.”

Shawn Cetrone •  803-329-4072

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