The school district here is working to make your child safer.
The Fort Mill school board voted Monday to approve the addition of six new armed security officers in the schools, according to the district.
“This will provide additional coverage at our combined school campuses and Fort Mill High School which are currently served by School Resource Officers,” a statement from the district reads.
School security is a top issue on the minds of parents and community members nationwide. On Feb. 14, 17 people were killed in a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Suspected guman Nikolaus Cruz, 19, a former student at the school, is facing 17 charges of premeditated murder in the mass shooting.
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The events in Florida helped shape recent conversations regarding the safety of Fort Mill students, said Joe Burke, district spokesperson. He said district officials were discussing some of the measures approved this week before the Florida shooting, and others were a result of recent recommendations to the school board.
“The recent school shootings were not the sole reason in the board’s decision to make these additions, but did play a role in the discussions,” Burke wrote in an e-mail to The Herald.
Sharyn Lewis, parent of a Fort Mill High School student, said she has seen the school take more precautions in recent years, such as locked classroom doors and improved security at front entrances.
“I feel the administration, along with the teachers have also stepped up to make sure each of the different buildings is secured,” she said. “You can’t just walk up and get into any part of the school. I can feel 100 percent confident that my kids are safe at school.”
The school board also approved adding more security systems for school buildings and three new mental health counselor positions, according to the district.
“The additional security officers and security systems will increase the physical safety of our students and staff,” said board chair Kristy Spears in prepared statement. “These tragedies also highlight the need for more student services. The addition of mental health counselors is an important piece of this action.”
The need for mental health support is outlined in the district’s current strategic plan, Burke said. With the additional positions, the district will employ six full-time mental health counselors and one part-time counselor who will be available to provide services to students throughout the district.
Each high school will be assigned a mental health counselor, leaving the other positions to meet the needs of the elementary and middle schools, Burke said. The district also employs 58 school counselors, psychologist and behavior interventionist positions that serve all students.
“Mental health support is available for all students in crisis. For those students with more significant and/or long term needs, the mental health counselors will work with families on identifying and securing the most appropriate level of service,” Burke wrote in a statement. “This may include receiving services from district’s mental health counselors during regular school hours or being connected with a qualified private provider.”
The new positions will be paid for from the district’s general fund, Burke said. The projected cost for the physical security systems is $100,000 and the district plans to spend $35,500 on the additional security officers for the remainder of the school year. Counselor salaries will be based on their qualifications.
The district will now employe a total of 17 armed officers, a mix of school resource officers from the Fort Mill and Tega Cay police departments and private security, Burke said. The private security officers will come from Columbia-based Defender Services, first contracted by the district in 2016.
The private security officers are on a yearly contract, Burke said. He said next year’s contract is under negotiation.
The district’s newest high school, Catawba Ridge High School, is set to open in August 2019 and will include current security systems in place in the district as well as the new additions.
“The safety and wellbeing of our students and staff is a top priority and we constantly assess our security and student services in the district,” Superintendent Chuck Epps said in a prepared statement. “Our school board has always supported the administration in this area and again has shown their commitment to our mission of putting children first.”
Another Fort Mill High School parent, Adrienne Wiggins, said she has seen security upgrades in the school and that students and staff complete drills to learn what to do in emergency events.
“We’re all concerned about our students, but I feel very strongly that if I didn’t feel comfortable with my student being safe at Fort Mill, they wouldn’t be going to school there,” she said. “I feel confident that the administration at the high school has done everything in their power to make our children feel safe and for teachers to feel safe.”
Spears said the district and school board members also encourage parents to talk to their students.
“While these actions taken by our board and district are key steps toward creating a safe learning environment, we still need the help of our students, parents and community,” Spears wrote in the statement.
“We ask that our parents talk with their students about these issues and assure them school is a safe place. We also ask that our parents remain involved in their child’s social activities.”
Amanda Harris: 803-329-4082