Planning for the worst: How secure are York County schools? It depends.

YORK COUNTY 

BY AMANDA HARRIS

The security of your child in a tragedy such as a shooting may depend on the age of the school building.

Rock Hill school leaders are taking steps to address security at all schools. The measures will look different at each school.

South Pointe High School, which opened in 2005, was built after tragedies such as the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School, and has an enclosed design to keep kids inside, said School Board Chairman Jim Vining.

“New schools now are designed for containment,” Vining said. “That is largely due to architectural changes that came about during the Columbine period.”

Rock Hill High School, which opened in 1977, and Northwestern High School, which opened in 1971, were not built with the same security features in mind, Vining said.

Chrissie Robbins, who has children in middle and high school in Rock Hill, said she is concerned that some schools have open spaces that are not fenced. She said she understands funding is an issue, but would like to see upgrades.

“People could have access straight into those open spaces without passing through any security,” she said.

Robbins also said school staff who work at front entrances need to be made more secure and more resource officers are needed at the front of schools.

“That staff is easily accessible,” Robbins said. “If someone wants to jump over the counter, there is nothing blocking (them).”

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. Nikolaus Cruz, 19, is facing 17 charges of premeditated murder in the mass shooting.

Following that tragedy, several incidents in which students made threats were broadcast on national news, including in Spartanburg where a student was arrested after officials said he circulated an apparent threat against his school on Snapchat while referencing the Florida shooting.

Schools in York, Chester and Lancaster counties have not been immune from threats. Two students from Lancaster were arrested last month and accused of threatening to shoot up Lancaster High School. A Sullivan Middle School student also was arrested after he confessed to saying he would “bring a firearm to school and shoot students and staff,” Rock Hill police said. A York Middle School student was arrested Wednesday and is accused of posting a threat to social media.

Over the past five years, the Rock Hill school district has invested more than $8 million to improve school security. Changes include structural upgrades to buildings, bus cameras, security fences and access control gates and a district-wide ID badge system with electronic door locks, district officials said.

“The idea is for every building to have the same level of security,” said Rock Hill school board member and parent Helena Miller. “Our district has been proactive in making sure we use all the resources we have available to us.”

The safety measures vary at each school, Miller said.

She said that could mean adding fences, adding cameras, enclosing office check-in areas and other measures. The district also has implemented mandatory background checks for volunteers, and requires visitors to check in before entering schools.

“We plan for the worst, now we have to hope for the best,” Miller said. “I do feel like my kids are safe.”

The district also encourages staff, students and the public to report anything they see on social media or hear in the community or elsewhere so it can be properly investigated, Miller said.

Northwestern High School parent Tanya Tucker said she has seen added security measures in the past five to six years. Tucker has a child in middle school, another in Northwestern and one who graduated from Northwestern.

“When you’re a parent, you want to make sure safety is always at the forefront of your mind,” she said. “Those things that have happened in our world have been unfortunate, but we feel like we have used them as opportunities to have us make the important changes we need to on behalf of the safety of our students.”

THOSE THINGS THAT HAVE HAPPENED IN OUR WORLD HAVE BEEN UNFORTUNATE, BUT WE FEEL LIKE WE HAVE USED THEM AS OPPORTUNITIES TO HAVE US MAKE THE IMPORTANT CHANGES WE NEED TO ON BEHALF OF THE SAFETY OF OUR STUDENTS.

Tanya Tucker, Rock Hill parent

Tucker, a member of Northwestern’s Student Improvement Council, said Northwestern’s front entries used to be more open, but now visitors must go through the front office and check in. She said they must wear an identifying badge at all times when on the grounds.

As part of district-wide improvements outlined in Rock Hill’s 2015 bond referendum, fences were added to control pedestrian access to Northwestern’s campus.

“Those things weren’t in place to that extent in years past,” Tucker said.

Tucker said one area she would like to see improved is security at large events, such as performances, athletic events and speaking engagements. She said more check-in points may be needed to ensure visitors are limited to specific areas.

“I don’t think security is always as tight as it could be,” Tucker said.

School districts in York, Chester and Lancaster Counties also have taken steps to improve security.

The Clover school district has committed $2 million from its capital improvements budget to upgrade and improve school security systems, said spokesperson Bryan Dillon.

The money will pay for items such as improving exterior doors and locking systems and improving security camera coverage throughout the district as part of the district’s comprehensive security plan, Dillon said.

The plans have been in place since the fall, he said. Clover school leaders met with local law enforcement, FBI and individual security consultants to analyze the district’s security measures. The district will begin working on the improvements in the spring, and plan to finish at the end of the 2018-19 school year.

Clover Superintendent Marc Sosne said district administration evaluates safety and security of schools every year and have designed emergency action plans for each school and the district office. He addressed school security during a recent school board meeting.

“By having conversations publicly and on an ongoing basis, not only are we better prepared, but we send a message to someone that might be thinking of wreaking havoc in a school setting that there might be easier targets than ours,” Sosne said.

Even with the upgrades, some parents still have concerns.

Rock Hill parent Isabel Parez posted this reply to a Feb. 16 Rock Hill school district statement on Facebook regarding school security:

At one school, she wrote, “they added new doors and glass walls in the lobby entrance but no security, no bulletproof glass where the administration sits at the entrance desk,” Parez’s reply states. “School doors are not locked all day so it is possible someone can walk in, shoot the administration team, jump over the desk and walk into the main building. For years their safety has bothered me.”

Tucker said parents want to be sure their voices and concerns are heard.

“We as parents want to support any and all efforts that our school districts are putting in place,” she said. “What we want more than anything is when we leave them with you in the morning, we want to pick them up in that same manner in the afternoon.”

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