Charleston County School Board member Elizabeth Moffly believes the question of whether to put police in elementary schools should be decided by the school district, not by municipalities such as North Charleston.
“Outside intrusion was the basis for putting police in (middle and high) schools, but we have let them take over discipline,” she said. “When you allow your freedoms to be eroded one by one, it gets bigger until you have the kind of society I don’t want to live in.”
North Charleston’s decision to permanently post police in all of the public elementary schools in the city, starting when classes resume next week, is an over-reach that could have unintended consequences, she told other members of the board in a series of emails.
“I am extremely concerned that N. Chas. City council is over stepping their authority to place cops in our elementary schools,” Moffly wrote. “This is not their jurisdiction it is ours.”
Board Vice Chairman Craig Ascue said the issue “should undoubtedly be a topic of discussion at our first meeting in January” but did not take a position. By the time the board meets for a workshop Jan. 9, North Charleston will have already sent police into the elementary schools, in a response to a shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut that killed 20 children and six adults.
The city’s decision, proposed by Mayor Keith Summey and approved by City Council last week, means the city will hire 21 police officers and cover the $1.5 million annual cost of their pay and benefits in order to post police in Charleston and Dorchester 2 elementary schools within the city.
Dorchester 2 Superintendent Joe Pye has said the district will look for funding to put police or sheriff’s deputies in elementary schools outside North Charleston, so that all the schools will have comparable security.
Charleston School District Superintendent Nancy McGinley has not staked out a position, but board Chairwoman Cindy Coats told North Charleston City Council members that they were doing the right thing, and the school district’s head of security, Jeff Scott, also attended the council meeting Thursday.
“Thank you for sending someone to these schools who can spend their days scanning the horizon, looking out the windows, looking down the hallways,” Coats told the council.
Coats said in an email that she will request legal advice for the school board on the issue of police jurisdiction raised by Moffly.
Moffly said she’s concerned that putting police officers in schools has already led to the criminalization of student behavior that in the past would have been handled internally. Students are questioned by police without parents’ permission, and are sent to juvenile detention facilities for offenses that in the past might have warranted a trip to the principal’s office, she said.
Moffly said an internally supervised security force, such as those used by colleges, would be a preferable alternative.
“This type of security is generally less expensive and preferable to the police state we have promoted,” she said.
Reach David Slade at 937-5552 or Twitter @DSladeNews.