Citizens group criticizes decision to add police to North Charleston elementary schools, organizes community meeting
Some Lowcountry residents are criticizing the decision to add police officers to North Charleston elementary schools, but the city’s mayor said he won’t apologize for taking action to keep students safe.
If you go
Who: Citizens United for Public Schools community meeting
What: Community members are invited to attend and give their input on the best way for schools and law enforcement to work together for students’ benefit.
When: 6:30 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Alfred Williams Community Center, 4401 Durant Ave., North Charleston.
Citizens United for Public Schools, an umbrella group that includes the Charleston branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Lowcountry Justice Commission, among others, said Wednesday that it was a “hasty, ill-advised and possibly injurious” initiative to add officers to the city’s 21 public elementary schools.
What they said
“While the safety of our children is an ongoing concern for all responsible citizens, the city of North Charleston’s unilateral decision is not the answer. If school safety is to be equitably and fairly achieved, then the school district should consult with all area law enforcement agencies and those in the community and review security policies and procedures that the school district already has in place.”
Dot Scott, president of the Charleston NAACP and spokeswoman for Citizens United for Public Schools
“As mayor of North Charleston, my number one job is to ensure the safety our citizens, and I will not be apologetic for doing so. ... We have placed police officers in all of our schools so students can focus solely on learning and to give parents peace of mind that their children will be in a safe environment while away from their care.”
North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey
They also have organized a community meeting to discuss the best way to protect all of the county’s 80 schools.
CUPS supporters cited a number of potential issues associated with the increased police presence, such as officers rather than educators enforcing discipline.
“An increased police presence may aggravate the situation in some schools and make our schools look and operate more like detention facilities than like places of learning,” said Dot Scott, president of the Charleston NAACP, who gave a statement on behalf of CUPS.
CUPS specifically took issue with North Charleston police, citing a history of racial profiling and a past of “violent and abusive behavior.”
“The chance of parents being ‘profiled’ simply for going to their children’s schools is frighteningly possible,” Scott said.
North Charleston Police Chief Jon Zumalt was out of the office Wednesday, and spokesman Spencer Pryor deferred comment to North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey.
Summey also was out of the office but released a statement saying police were in schools so students can focus on learning and so parents will know their children are in a safe environment.
He said he would not be dissuaded by the voices of a few, nor would he risk students’ safety.
“Finger-pointing and name-calling never solves problems, and it is a sad day when we are criticized for taking action to protect the most vulnerable among us, our young children,” he said. “How could we live with ourselves if a child was harmed and nothing was done to try to prevent it?”
Summey proposed the $2 million plan to hire and equip police officers for the city’s public elementary schools. He did so in response to the Dec. 14 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., where 20 children and six adults were killed. City Council approved that plan.
Another issue raised by CUPS is that of authority and whether North Charleston can add officers to district schools without the county school board’s consent.
The school board approved in September contracts with each local police agency that describe how many school resource officers would be provided, where they would be placed, and the duties of those officers and the district. That hasn’t happened for the latest addition of North Charleston officers.
School Board Chairwoman Cindy Bohn Coats said the previous contracts required the district to supplement part of the officers’ costs, but these additional North Charleston officers were being covered 100 percent by the city.
She is trying to find answers regarding the district’s and board’s role when funding isn’t an issue.
“Those are the first and most valid questions that need to be addressed,” she said.
The issue of school resource officers has been discussed at length by the board more than once during the past year. At least one school board member, Elizabeth Moffly, said she doesn’t think schools need police officers. Others, such as Chris Collins, have taken issue with the way police handle incidents in schools.
Many educators say officers are critical to creating a safe school climate. Superintendent Nancy McGinley hasn’t taken a position on officers in elementary schools, and she declined an interview request Wednesday from The Post and Courier.
She released a brief statement saying school resource officers were present for public safety and protection, and principals remain in charge of discipline and building supervision.
“Having a police officer on a school campus is an additional deterrent to violent crime,” she said.
Chicora School of Communications Principal Brian Agnew said his school previously shared a school resource officer with Military Magnet Academy, but an officer has been on his school’s campus full time since the Connecticut shootings.
The resource officer provides extra protection, such as repeatedly checking interior and exterior doors to ensure they are secure, he said. The officer hasn’t interfered with the way Agnew handles discipline or safety but rather enhances safety, he said.
“It provides a really good role model for our kids, and a good way for the police to become friendly with neighborhood folks,” Agnew said.
Reach Diette Courrégé Casey at @Diette on Twitter or 843-937-5546.