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Darlington County school board hears school safety plan

December 4, 2018

DARLINGTON, S.C. – The Darlington County Board of Education got a broad overview Monday of a possible district-wide plan to upgrade video surveillance systems, implement electronic access control systems and expand existing mass notification systems all aimed at making Darlington County School District schools safer and more secure.

All three components – video surveillance, electronic access and mass notification – are related, said Diane Sigmon, the district’s executive director of technology, who presented the overview.

The plan comes with a projected budget of almost $4.7 million.

As envisioned, the plan would upgrade or replace the existing video surveillance systems in district schools, which Sigmon said are old and lagging behind current technology.

The plan would help address four overall areas for secure schools: student safety, building security, live monitoring and evidence gathering, Sigmon said.

The new mass notification system would provide real-time information and instructions for people in a building through a variety of methods, including phone communications, texts messaging, graphics and other possible methods, she said. The district has a notification system that officials say works well.

The video surveillance system would involve the installation of high-tech cameras in district schools and offices. But the cameras currently used in district schools do not capture the image sharpness and other details that the higher-tech cameras would, Sigmon said.

The system also would provide tie-ins for law enforcement to help monitor any security situations that might develop in a school, Sigmon said.

The proposed plan is the product of a committee that has been studying school safety and security since last March, Sigmon said.

The presentation was intended to give the board a look at the possibilities that exist for improving school safety, officials said.

Should the board decide to go forward with such a project, then as soon as members make a decision about a project budget, district staff can proceed with more fully developing a plan and an implementation time line, Sigmon said.

“As soon as we know the budget parameters, then we can move forward,” she said.

But before that happens, board members want to discuss the proposed project in greater detail. Several members asked for a board work session. Among other things, board members want to know more about the ongoing cost of maintaining and continually upgrading such a system.

Superintendent Tim Newman said district officials originally intended to present the idea during a work session. He said mass shootings across the nation in recent months, including school shootings, raise the question of what the district is doing to keep schools, students, teachers and staff safe.

“Having that technology available to us is huge,” Newman said.

But Newman said the proposed plan alone will not ensure safe and secure schools.

“This is just one task,” he said.

But it offers an important component in any effort to improve school safety, he said.

“This is a first step,” Newman said.

He said district and school officials wanted the board to see what the committee has been working on and thinking about.

The next step, he said, will include talking to staff and teachers at individual schools and to parents.

“Parents are going to have to be a big part of this conversation,” Newman said.

Newman said district staff will organize a work session in the coming weeks for board members to consider the ideas presented further.

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