Cheeseman; “Safety is our number one priority”  

Published 1:21 pm Thursday, May 26, 2022

Nineteen students and two teachers were killed at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas on Tuesday, May 24. The tragic event sparked conversations about effective, safety related protocols at elementary schools. 

In Beaufort County, safety is the school district’s main priority – above education – Superintendent Dr. Matthew Cheeseman shared. 

“It’s our number one priority, even before education takes place and it’s not only the safety of children, but it’s the safety of all the adults inside those buildings, on our buses, in our units,” Cheeseman said. “Without it, you cannot educate anybody.” 

“Awareness” among students and staff, he said, is the greatest safety measure to have at all 14 schools and among an estimated 6,000 students and more than 1,000 staff members in the district. 

Educating students that it is good to communicate what they see either in-person or online to a school official is how the district generates more awareness. Listening to students share about what happened in a neighborhood or what they see or read on social media is how school officials learn about possible safety risks. Also, parents send tips to the school district about what they observe on their child’s phone. 

“A large opportunity is to bring awareness where kids can feel safe about discussing what they see or have had experienced,” Cheeseman said. 

When devastating events happen at schools across the nation, Chief Operating Officer, Dr. Marvin Bradley, said he is “always concerned about the students in our district and making certain we do everything possible to keep them safe.” 

One way they put his statement into practice is by completing active shooter training drills ensuring staff know strategies on what to do if there is an active shooter on campus. Binders filled with information about safety protocols are given to school staff.

“I also think about the fact that if something like this does happen, it’s always something we will miss,” Bradley said. “It’s just a natural fact.”

Cheeseman added that active shooter drills teach participants the value of time and how quickly or slowly events unfold during an active shooter situation. 

Beaufort County Schools (BCS) currently has the following safety measures in place: video systems that monitor students and activities at school and in buses, locking mechanisms on doors and a “high presence” of school resource officers. 

Beaufort County Schools’ SROs are hired through Allied Universal Special Police – an organization that establishes public-private partnerships with police departments to provide security services.  

SROs are the first to arrive at school campuses in the mornings and the last to leave in the evenings, Cheeseman said. They do not leave a school campus unless they have another officer covering for them. They are equipped with a HELIAUS device. 

A HELIAUS device, provided by Allied Universal, uses Artificial Intelligence to determine areas on a school campus where a heavier presence by a SRO is required based on collected data and a series of algorithms, according to Allied Universal’s website. The device supplies suggestions to SROs of places on campus where they should be at a certain time of day if incidents are prone to happen in that area. 

Mariah Hudson is a school resource officer (SRO) at Eastern Elementary in Washington. She has been at the school for a year. She was a police officer with the Washington Police Department for three years before transitioning to the elementary school. 

She described school shootings as “heartbreaking” events that highlight the importance of a SROs role on campuses and having trusting relationships between students and their families. “It’s a lot of making sure that kids know what to do, parents know what to do” in addition to educators and staff. 

She continued to say a portion of her role is to be interactive and present in areas that may have many visitors or have heavy foot traffic. 

To Hudson’s knowledge, there has never been an obvious or substantiated threat to BCS students’ safety. She and many SROs have to sift through rumors and investigations often show no real threats.  

To establish a trusting relationship with students and educators, Hudson helps them understand what behaviors are inappropriate but also praises them when they do something well so that they do not exclusively associate negative emotions or behavior with her. 

When asked about which safety measures Cheeseman would like to see added to local school campuses in the future, he said “more personnel” at larger campuses is preferred. He is concerned that adding metal detectors (a suggestion made to him) would “change the culture” at schools. Also he is concerned that students standing in line, outdoors, waiting to go through metal detectors could be at risk for harm. 

“I think moving forward, working with our Board of Education, we’re really going to look at what our schools present in terms of safety risks, and also make sure that we really adjust our planning to individual schools…,” Cheeseman said.  

Bradley would tell Beaufort County School families that entrusting their kids with the school district is “the right thing, because our heart is for to love our children…Regardless of what’s going on, we are doing all we can to make certain that their child is in the best hands…”