SC school district will be short of resource officers to start the year. What’s being done

·3 min read
Gerry Melendez/gmelendez@thestate

Some parents in a local school district are concerned about the shortage of school resource officers in local schools just days before classes resume.

Some elementary schools in Lexington-Richland 5 will begin the school year without Lexington County sheriff’s deputies to provide on-campus security, due to a staffing shortage at the sheriff’s department.

“Like virtually every other law enforcement agency around the country, we’re experiencing challenges when it comes to staffing,” said Captain Adam Myrick with the Lexington County Sheriff’s Department. “We have openings of various types across the agency, including school resource officer. There are several newly hired deputies who will be permanently assigned to an SRO role after onboarding. In the meantime, we’re leveraging a new $5,000 new hire incentive and an increased starting salary structure up to $50,444 to bring in new deputies.”

The school district said this week it has closed an agreement with Security Solutions of America to provide private security guards for the affected elementary schools. The guards are trained and licensed to carry firearms on campus and will be empowered to detain and arrest suspects with the cooperation of local law enforcement, Superintendent Akil Ross told school board members at a meeting Monday.

The schools that will rely on private security on the first day of school are Chapin Elementary School, Leaphart Elementary School, Nursery Road Elementary School, Piney Woods Elementary School and Seven Oaks Elementary School, the school district said. Ross said the school district decided to prioritize SRO deputies in schools with older students.

“We looked at incidents in high schools and middle schools, and there were a lot of incidents where SROs have to deal with student-to-student issues,” Ross said at the school board meeting. “In elementary schools it’s more about protecting the campus.”

Parents at one school said they only found out their school wouldn’t have a deputy on campus two weeks ago, with classes scheduled to begin for the new school year on Tuesday.

Krisdee Clark, who serves on the school improvement council at Piney Woods Elementary School, said the lack of a law enforcement officer on campus is concerning after dozens of children were killed by a gunman last May in an elementary school in Texas.

“Especially in light of what happened in Uvalde, if it’s known our elementary schools don’t have deputies, that puts a target on them,” Clark told The State, referencing the Texas town where more than a dozen schoolchildren were shot and killed when the school was attacked by a mass shooter in May.

She said she was comforted by the knowledge the private guards will be armed but was concerned that parents found out about the shortage so close to the first day of school, feeling the district could have communicated the situation better.

“If we’re focused on security, I shouldn’t be wondering who’s going to be at my son’s school,” she said.

The district’s contract with the firm includes one additional “roving” guard who can fill in when another guard or deputy is unavailable for duty. The guards will be paid $24.75 per hour, the district said. The district also has the flexibility to move deputies into the elementary schools when they become available, Ross said.

The Lexington 1 and Lexington 2 school districts both told The State their schools are fully staffed with SROs, some of whom are provided by municipal police departments. The Richland County Sheriff’s Department said it has been able to provide SROs to all of the county’s schools.

Ross said the district is investing in other security measures as well, noting that every school will open with an OpenGate walk-through metal detector that will quickly and unobtrusively scan people as they enter the building.

“If it turns red, you can’t get in the building,” Ross said.

The district is also exploring the possibility of adding door chimes to entrances and exits so security personnel can be more quickly alerted whenever an exterior door opens, Ross said.