Education

Rock Hill to add security at all elementary schools; police remain at middle high

Rock Hill schools will hire private, armed security officers to be stationed at all district elementary schools, police and school officials said.

The district is seeking bids from security firms and will have the security officers in place after Labor Day, said Mychal Frost, school district spokesman. The district will hire a firm that will provide 18 officers -- one for each elementary school, plus one supervisor.

“Safety for all students, staff, and parents is paramount,” Frost said. “The security officers will give us a presence in every school.”

School safety has become a serious issue in South Carolina and across America after recent acts of violence that included a mass killing at Parkland school in Florida and earlier shootings in Connecticut and other states.

Rock Hill Schools hired former Rock Hill Police Department Sgt. Mike Johnson in June to manage the security team as director of safety and security for the entire district. Johnson was the 2018 school resource officer of the year for South Carolina. The security officers, when hired, will report to Johnson. He also will coordinate with all school resource officers to give a districtwide armed presence.

“This will get elementary schools an armed, uniformed security presence in each school at all times,” Johnson said. “The response time for any emergency will be greatly reduced.”

Police presence also remains important for the district, said both schools and law enforcement officials.

In the past, resource officers from the Rock Hill Police Department and York County Sheriff’s Office were assigned to middle and high schools and also handled incidents at nearby elementary schools, Frost said. The new security officers will provide an additional layer of safety on the elementary campuses, officials said.

Lt. Tim Ayers of the Rock Hill Police Department will continue to supervise the eight Rock Hill resource officers who work at Rock Hill district middle and high school campuses.

“We are in favor of the added presence,” Ayers said. “Our school resource officers will still be able to help at any school at any time. It’s a plus for safety for all.”

Two deputies from the sheriff’s office who work under the direction of Sgt. Tim Lee work as Rock Hill school resource officers at Rock Hill High and Castle Heights Middle School. York County deputies also work at schools in the Clover and York districts.

“Our school resource officers will continue to enforce the laws at schools and provide a presence that makes schools safe,” said Trent Faris, spokesman for the sheriff’s office. “The sheriff’s office will continue to make the safety and security of everyone at all schools a top priority. We have been and remain committed to school safety.”

The decision to hire security officers came after input from parents, staff, students and the public, Johnson said.

Area school districts using private armed security in addition to police officers has become more common. Fort Mill, Clover and Chester school districts all use private security officers in conjunction with law enforcement school resource officers.

In the past year, Rock Hill schools and police have instituted several safety measures that include metal detectors on some campuses and random campus checks.

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