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Random searches yielded hundreds of prohibited items, including weapons, last year at CCSD

North Charleston Metal Detectors Praying Behind.JPG (copy)

During random searches at Charleston County School Districts, students walk through metal detectors. File/Henry Taylor/Staff

Charleston County School District will search high school students for weapons and other contraband this year, continuing safety measures that have been in place since 2019.

Parents of CCSD high schoolers were notified the random searches would resume in a letter officials sent out recently. The random search program began in the spring of 2019 but was interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2021-22 school year was the first full year of the program.

Random searches remain a controversial safety measure after multiple studies found students of color tend to get searched more than their White peers. Michael Reidenbach, CCSD’s executive director of security and emergency management, said that the district has taken great measures to guarantee that the program is entirely random.

First, the school safety team identifies which classrooms are active in all of the schools at the beginning of the year. Then, a school is randomly selected. A district employee who is not on the school security team uses a randomizer on a website to select the classroom number. Only the search team is made aware of the selected classroom number.

Once the team — which consists of a campus safety manager and assistant manager, as well as contracted credentialed security officers — arrives at the school, administration is told which room is going to be searched, and they inform the team of any special needs that may exist in the classroom that they should be cognizant of.

“We don’t even know who’s in the classroom until we’ve arrived,” Reidenbach said.

When in the classroom, the team introduces themselves and explains to the class it was selected randomly, and students are separated from their bags.

Then, two at a time, students are taken with their bags into the hallway and asked to walk through a metal detector while their bags are searched. If nothing is found, they can go back to the classroom, but if they alert the system, then the team investigates the trigger.

Data obtained by The Post and Courier through a Freedom of Information Act request found that of students searched, 41.2 percent were Black, 40.8 percent were White and 13.7 percent were Hispanic, which aligns with the demographics of CCSD high schools.

Reidenbach said that the searches are only one component of CCSD’s multi-tiered approach to security, which also includes trainings, school resource officers at 71 percent of CCSD schools and mental health professionals. The district is continuing to expand its security efforts as safety incidents in schools occur across the country.

In May, 19 students and two teachers were killed during a mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas. A couple months earlier, Jamari Jackson, a 12-year-old student at Tanglewood Middle School in Greenville, was fatally shot by one of his classmates, who was also 12.

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A Post and Courier analysis of hundreds of thousands of disciplinary reports found that the number of weapons in South Carolina's K-12 school doubled from 2018 to 2021.

The analysis examined disciplinary reports from 24 school districts that took place between August and November of each year. Even though CCSD didn't provide data for 2021, it still had the highest number of serious, violent incidents on K-12 school campuses during the four-year period. CCSD, the second-largest school district in the state, had approximately 10,200 student write-ups for serious incidents, which the paper defined as assaults, fights, biting, thrown objects and other such offenses. Greenville, the largest school district in the state, had 6,800 violent incidents.

When The Post and Courier published the data in May, CCSD spokesman Andrew Pruitt said the district couldn't detail any specifics on why it had more violent disciplinary reports, but said that districts and schools can characterize incidents differently. 

Reidenbach said the random searches are meant to serve as a preventative security measure. The district wants students to understand that there is an increased risk of having their contraband detected if they bring it on campus.

"That deterrent effect is really the strongest mission of the program," he said.

Such deterrent effects are difficult to measure by nature, especially after one year.

However, data obtained through the FOIA request showed that during the last academic year random searches led to CCSD seizing 326 prohibited items, including weapons, illegal drugs and tobacco.

The random searches found 32 weapons in total, which included pepper sprays, tasers and knives. Two illegal drugs were found, as well as 178 non-prescription and prescription drugs without proper documentation.

Over the next few weeks, the district’s school safety team is also meeting with school and community leaders to make safety recommendations to the board of trustees during October’s committee of the whole meeting.

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Reach Devna Bose at 843-830-4027. Follow her on Twitter @devnabose.

Devna Bose covers Charleston County schools for The Post and Courier’s Education Lab. A Mississippi native, she previously reported on race and social justice issues in Charlotte.

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