Chester sheriff says safety training must continue to improve

jmcfadden@heraldonline.comNovember 16, 2013 

Underwood

The Chester County Sheriff’s Office and school district are making amends weeks after Sheriff Alex Underwood said a “disconnect” between the two offices prompted him to forgo plans to train the county’s teachers for emergency situations and instead focus on students.

That “disconnect,” according to the sheriff, came in the aftermath of a story published in The Herald this summer about deputies covertly entering 12 of the county’s 13 schools.

“I think there’s a little tension,” he said last month. “There’s a distrust that’s from some of the school officials.”

Schools Superintendent Agnes Slayman said there was never a disconnect or distrust between the two offices, stressing that school officials still turn to local law enforcement when issues arise.

With permission from Slayman and the school board, deputies dressed in plain clothes entered every school except Lewisville Middle School without being challenged. Their purpose was to expose any flaws or weaknesses in school safety, and hopefully address them.

After The Herald’s story, Underwood said relations between the Sheriff’s Office and school district soured.

Maggie James, school board chair, said she was unaware of any kind of problems between the school district and Sheriff’s Office.

“I don’t know where you get that from,” she said. “I know Sheriff Underwood personally and he has been, from the time he has taken office, he has been very supportive of the school district. There’s never been a disconnect between us ... he’s never expressed it to me.”

Things between law enforcement and the schools were “peachy keen” before the story published, Underwood said.

Underwood said plans to train the county’s teachers for school shootings have come to a halt.

Slayman said there were no definitive plans for training, though officials did discuss the possibility. Slayman did allow deputies to conduct active shooter training, which trained authorities on what to do in the event of a school shooting, at Chester Middle School this spring. Since then, she said she has not heard anything about working in tandem with the Sheriff’s Office on safety.

The next phase of the school shooting training was to involve teachers and staff, the sheriff said.

“We haven’t been able to teach or train the teachers of staff of what takes place or what to do in those situations,” he said. “The next step that we can do is have a training to allow…parents to bring their students to learn information.”

Last week, Underwood said Slayman called him to ensure there were no problems between them. Officials met with the Sheriff’s office to work out their issues and reach an understanding.

“We’re working out some stuff,” he said. “I don’t want to set us back.”

“We’re mending fences,” said Sheriff’s Office Lt. Dwayne Robinson, who supervises the schools’ resource officers. “I think we had a communication problem between them and us. A misconception, maybe.”

“I feel like they felt what we said should have been more politically correct,” Underwood said. “The bottom line, the truth is the truth. My kid goes to that school just like everybody else’s kids go to that school. If their feelings are hurt, I’m sorry, but we need to get better.”

Jonathan McFadden •  803-329-4082

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