Security upgrades coming to local schools this summer

Students in Dorchester County will benefit from a security upgrade this summer, according to officials.

When the school year starts in August, parents who visit campus could see some changes.

Lowcountry school districts are taking the summer to upgrade security measures at many local schools. Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester District 2 have all undergone recent security evaluations to point out areas of weaknesses.

Charleston County School District finished adding security upgrades to several schools in March, said Jeff Scott, district security and emergency management director.

Berkeley and Dorchester District 2, however, are making improvements that include fences and modifications to school entryways to make them "storefronts" with entry areas that direct visitors to the office.

"We've got a lot going on this summer," said Tim Knight, safety and security officer for Berkeley County School District. The district is focusing on older schools that were built before safety measures were necessary, he said.

"If your child's school didn't have the storefront, you are going to see that in the fall," Knight said. "It will probably be the biggest physical thing they will see. That will limit anyone's access throughout the school, and they'll basically be forced to go into the main office to sign in."

Berkeley is also installing a visitor management system that also checks the sex offender registry while managing visitors, students, faculty and volunteers.

"The days of people using a pen and paper to sign in are long gone," Knight said. "They'll be asked to show their driver's license or ID and that will be how we keep track of our visitors."

Eleven schools in Dorchester 2 are receiving new entrances this summer to improve security.

Rick Rogers, director of facilities for the district, said parents can check out the new security entrances during their children's registration days.

The districts are also adding more cameras and radios, as well as other security improvements that won't be visible to visitors. They are also hiring more resource officers as budgets permit.

The improvements are being funded by each district's Yes 4 Schools programs. In 2012, Berkeley County voters approved $198 million and Dorchester 2 voters approved $179 million in general obligation bonds to build and renovate schools.

District officials say the upgrades are necessary to protect students and provide peace of mind for parents in the wake of a rash of school shootings nationally.

On Dec. 14, 2012, 27 students and faculty members were killed in the deadliest mass shooting at a school at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. Since then, there have been 33 school shootings nationwide, according to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, which classifies a "major school shooting" as any incident in which "the shooter was directly linked to the school and at least one person was shot on school property."

"It's a shame we have to do this, but these are the times we live in," Knight said.

Reach Brenda Rindge at 937-5713 or @brindge on Twitter.