TOP 10 OF 2018: School security a focus in 2018, threats hit home

Published 5:50 pm Thursday, December 27, 2018

It’s been a topic of conversation throughout the country in 2018 — how can students’ safety in schools be assured? Spurred by a tragic shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in February, these conversations have resonated in local governments nationwide, including in Beaufort County.

All told, Beaufort County Schools has dealt with four separate threats to student safety this year, one of which involved an actual gun on campus.

Following the circulation of a threat on social media in February, school system officials and Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office deputies stepped up security at local schools. It was quickly discovered that the threat did not originate locally.

In April, a 15-year-old student was taken into custody at Washington High School after making threats to shoot up the school on social media the evening before. The student, who was not identified due to his age, was charged with making a false threat of mass violence on educational property. Investigators determined that there was no credible threat to student safety.

May brought a story of a burglarized house and a stolen gun that ended up on the campus of Washington High School. In that case, the gun in question was among items taken from a home on Sunnyside Drive in Washington. A footprint at the scene tied the break-in to three WHS students, each of whom faced a mix of felony charges, including possession of a gun on campus, breaking and entering, larceny and larceny of a firearm. In this case, deputies determined that there was no intention on the part of the teens to use the gun at school.

This fall, a conversation overheard on a school bus led to charges for one Northside High School student. As a result of the conversation, Austin Shane Walker, 18, was charged with making a false threat of mass violence on educational property. Investigating officers found no weapon and had no reason to believe the threat was credible.


In each of the incidents listed, school system administrators have strongly denounced such behavior, promising to seek the most severe disciplinary and legal measures possible against anyone who threatens student safety. In addition to this inherently reactionary policy, administrators and others in the community are also seeking to take proactive steps to ensure school security.

This April, for the first time, a combination of school system personnel, law enforcement, community college staff and county government officials formed a School Safety Committee to plan for the worst and take measures to make sure it never happens. Open lines of communications between these entities and agencies help ensure proper response.

On the law enforcement side and in each school, active shooter drills and training ensure that officers and students are prepared and know what to do in the event of a shooting. In June, Beaufort County Community College offered training for police and all manner of first responders.

Two big pieces of the puzzle fell into place during BCS and county budget sessions this year, with Board of Education members setting aside funds to hire a mental health professional to counsel students. County commissioners, likewise, allocated $765,000 to equip, train and place a school resource officer in every school in Beaufort County.

In some ways, BCS was already ahead of the curve with regard to school security. Electronic door access, visitor check-in terminals, cameras and controlled entry points help ensure students are safe. A long-term vision for campuses throughout the county, spelled out in the school system’s capital plan, involves connecting corridors between each building.

Moving into 2019, as the conversation continues, so too will efforts to ensure the safety of our local students.