COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCBD)- The deadly mass shooting at a private Christian school in Nashville on Monday sparked questions about security at private schools nationwide, including in South Carolina.
Unlike public schools, private institutions in South Carolina are not subject to as many state-mandated requirements, including those related to school safety. That means private schools sometimes also lack access to certain government resources that would help bolster security.
That trade-off has led organizations like the South Carolina Association of Independent Schools (SCISA) to take action in the wake of the Nashville shooting.
SCISA Executive Director Dr. Spencer Jordan said despite some federal grant money being available to private schools, funding is a major issue, particularly in obtaining school resource officers (SROs).
“We take it very seriously that we want all our schools to have SROs but of course, funding becomes a major problem in all of this,” Dr. Jordan said. “When you talk about a school having to buy a county vehicle, pay that individual’s salary and retirement, and those types of things, some of these small schools just can’t afford that.”
Of the 137 SCISA schools, Jordan said only about half of them have an SRO on campus, which is why the group is calling on the state government for help.
“We are going to be asking the General Assembly and the Governor to help us with these issues which are to get an SRO at every school within our organization and all schools,” he said.
Jordan said increased funding and the passage of legislation requiring SROs would be critical steps in ensuring student safety.
“If we’re really serious about stopping school violence and school shootings across our nation, then we must attack this from an aggressive point of view,” he said. “We have to have funds available to all schools to be able to provide this kind of service.”
Nevertheless, SCISA has continued to implement its own protocols for violence prevention, ranging from making sure exterior doors are locked at all times to developing individualized evacuation procedures.
“Those types of things have become commonplace unfortunately in our society in modern times, but they are essential for school safety,” Jordan said. “Evil does occur and we recognize that as well but we want to do everything that we can.”
SCISA also requires all member schools to conduct a safety audit at least once a year in which a representative from county government, local law enforcement, or other approved group tours the school and highlights specific areas in need of improvement.
And while Jordan said it is ultimately up to administrators to heed the advice given during audits, not doing so could come with a price.
“If you don’t go by these particular protocols… you’re going to lose your accreditation and if you lose your accreditation, all the sudden you have nothing to stand on academically,” he explained.
Still, Jordan recognizes that safety solutions are not “one-size fits all”, especially for SCISA which oversees schools ranging from five students to 1,600 students. He encourages schools to work with their local government to adopt additional measures such as parking a marked patrol car outside, installing an alarm system, or conducting drills.
It is these measures, and others, that Jordan believes will help private schools execute their duty to students and parents across South Carolina.
“When people hand their child over to you, they’re giving your their most valuable possession,” he said. “All children have a right to be safe when they go to school and our number one goal is to keep them as safe as possible while they are in our control.”