Cops might not be the silver bullet to keeping schools safe, but a majority on the Charleston County School Board agreed Monday that police officers should be welcomed in the district’s North Charleston elementary schools.
The school board voted 7-1 to accept North Charleston City Council’s offer to pick up the tab for and hire officers for the city’s 21 elementary schools this school year. Board member Elizabeth Moffly voted against the majority, and board member Craig Ascue was absent.
“Will it be a fail-safe? No way,” said school board member Todd Garrett. “One person can’t make a campus safe, but their being there can help keep the school focused on being safe.”
Although the district already has full-time officers in most of its middle and high schools, the decision to add police to elementary schools prompted some community outcry. Those in opposition have concerns, such as police criminalizing juvenile behavior and intervening in discipline matters that should be handled by the school.
Citizens United for Public Schools, an education advocacy group, criticized North Charleston officials for moving too quickly and without community input, and they held a town hall meeting last week to discuss the issue.
On Monday, board members Chris Collins and Moffly said they were concerned with the officers being placed inside of the schools for the entire day. If they’re supposed to be preventing intrusions, both said the officers would serve schools better by securing exterior perimeters.
Both also brought up issues that have been rehashed by the board multiple times, such as alleged variation in the way schools handle incidents and officers failing to follow board policy regarding accused students’ rights.
“I really don’t think these officers have enough training in juvenile behavior,” Moffly said.
The board majority thought otherwise. Board member Michael Miller said he put his thoughts on police in schools aside and talked to school leaders to see what they thought.
“I have yet to speak to a principal who says they don’t want extra security on their campus,” he said.
School Superintendent Nancy McGinley hadn’t taken a position on the placement of officers in elementary schools until Monday, and she said that was because she first wanted to think the issue through carefully.
She said the officers are important deterrents and she’d welcome them at the district’s remaining elementary schools.
She said she agreed with President Barack Obama, who said if there’s anything more that can be done to save one child’s life, then it needs to happen.
Board members will talk about the role school resource officers play in schools during a workshop, to be held before the board renews officers’ contracts for the 2013-14 school year.
The board plans to discuss at its Jan. 28 meeting whether to invite other law enforcement agencies serving the county’s schools to place school resource officers in elementary schools.
Other local districts also are looking into the feasibility of adding police officers to elementary schools.
In other business, the board voted 5-3 against allowing the proposed Village Charter School to open; board members Collins, Moffly and Miller were on the losing side of the vote.
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