Laurens, S.C. – Starting next fall, Laurens District High students will need to navigate new entrances to the sprawling LDHS building due to the addition of four metal detectors which District 55 administration has ordered for the next school year.
The decision to order the metal detectors was announced last Monday during the May 23 regular meeting of the District 55 School Board. The discussion was just over 12 hours before the shooting of children at a Texas elementary school last Tuesday.
“Safety has been a priority and one of or goals that we’ve had the past couple years since I came on as superintendent,” District 55 Superintendent Ameca Thomas said. “This will require the reconfiguration of some entrances and I encourage everyone to be patient as we adjust to these changes.”
The district also has ordered two metal detector wands per school which administrators hope will prevent any weapon from entering the school.
“We’ve looked at this from a mental health standpoint and we have tried to offer more options from that perspective as we’ve continued to look for ways we can make our kids safer,” Thomas said. “We have already installed secure entrances with a door in between the office where visitors can come in before entering the school, but we have been meeting with our local law enforcement and continuously revisiting all our safety protocols to see where we continue to improve.”
The metal detector doors and wands are another step. It was not news to the school board members when she explained the plan last Monday night.
“We’ve talked about metal detectors in the past and as we have worked with safety consultants and from meetings with SLED we saw this as the best time,” she said.
Earlier this spring District 55 began a GoFundMe page to raise funds for two dedicated K-9 units for the district, and Thomas was able to tell the board last week that enough had come in through various donor sources to cover almost one of the dogs. That included a $4,000 gift from American Legion Post 25 and a $3,000 donation from Holmes Veterinary Hospital. Then the Laurens County Emergency Management Division provided funding from its department for one of the dogs. One school resource officer from each of the local agencies – Laurens City Police and the Laurens County Sheriff Office – will train and keep the District 55 drug and article dogs.
Thomas also asked any parent who hears about or observes something that is a cause for concern to please contact someone at the district and report their concerns.
Thomas said more than once, when the district experiences a potential incident, she’s been told that someone had a suspicion but didn’t speak up.
“Please if you observe anything speak up,” Thomas said. “I have had discussions with parents who saw something that was a concern but never shared. Please share any concerns before something happens.”
Thomas said the district also was considering clear backpacks, but that positive survey results for that were only slightly higher than negative opinions by parents, guardians and staff, and student opinions were overwhelmingly against the idea. The plan is still under consideration and the district has not yet determined if clear backpacks would be required.
On May 28, the day following the recent Texas shooting, Thomas sent a letter to the Laurens District 55 family, explaining some of the safety measures which the district is taking to assure the safety of students and staff and which she had shared in the board meeting the night before.
“I announced in August 2021 that our number one goal from the beginning has been about safety,” Thomas said, “and it remains safety.”
This story was originally published page 1 in the Wednesday, June 1 issue of The Laurens County Advertiser.