I have taught special needs students in South Carolina’s public schools for eleven years. Through these years I have seen some pretty dangerous situations develop inside and out of class. At my last school in Walterboro, teachers that asked about safety issues were instructed to lock their class doors.
School violence in the United States has changed the way teachers, parents and students think about life in the classroom. Instead of just worrying about a Math test or English paper, some students and teachers now fear for their own personal safety.
Across the country, administrators and law enforcement officials have come up with creative ways to protect our children in school. It all starts with knowing the real status of each school’s safety readiness. School safety audits are a good way to determine if present day security precautions are simply enough.
I am convinced that some public schools in South Carolina are already well equipped to handle emergencies. Many of these schools have emergency drills and the entire staff prepares for the worse case scenarios.
However, I believe the simple truth is that other schools may not be as prepared as we need them to be. And unfortunately, it often takes a tragedy to spur the initial actions needed to make everyone safe.
If elected as Superintendent of Education in South Carolina, my first priority will be to make sure all children in K-12 public schools remain safe. Complacency is our biggest enemy. The worst thing any of us can do is simply ignore the problem.
Do we really know how prepared our public schools are for emergencies today?
One of my first jobs as Superintendent will be to order an extensive top down, safety review survey audit for each and every public school in the South Carolina. We have a moral obligation to insure the safety of every student in every school.
We need to know what these schools are doing right now to prepare for the unexpected. For example, do all of these schools have resource officers? Are these resource officers on duty all day or just a portion of the day? Are these same schools drilling routinely for emergencies?
The first order of business will be to reach out and speak with our State’s top law enforcement and security professionals to determine the right questions to ask for this audit. I will work with school resource officers, teachers, parents, students and many others to make sure everyone stays involved. The State and Federal Department of Education has asked these types of questions before so we should take all of their best ideas and build from them.
Once these surveys are drafted, we will send them out to each and every public school in the state. Each institution will then have a set time to respond. It will be important for each school to treat this audit seriously and understand the impact this could have on the future of that school. It will be a priority for me and I will make sure all teachers, students, parents and officials at the State Department of Education are well aware of that.
After the research is collected and compiled statewide, the Department of Education will create a comprehensive public report to be released online to the Governor and State Legislature alerting them to the real status of safety preparedness in South Carolina’s K-12 schools.
After we have a better idea where we stand as a State on school safety we can finally begin to address it in a more comprehensive and substantial way. That is a discussion I think many of us would like to participate in, but until we know the facts we don’t know what we are really dealing with. Remember, in some districts in 2014, the only safety precaution some classrooms make is to simply lock their door.
As a teacher and mother of three, nothing is a higher priority for me than the safety and protection of all children in the classroom.
Sally Atwater is a candidate for State Superintendent of Education in South Carolina. She has a Masters in Education from Winthrop College, has taught 11 years in South Carolina’s public schools, worked at the US Department of Education and at the US Dept. of Health Human Services.