Aiken Co. unveils new Safe Schools Initiative

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News 12 at 11 o'clock / Wednesday, May 15, 2013

AIKEN, S.C. (WRDW) -- It has been almost five months to the day since that unthinkable tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. Twenty-six people died in that shooting, and 20 of them were children.

Ever since, local school districts and law enforcement agencies have been working to make your child's school safer.

On Wednesday night, Aiken County unveiled a new Safe Schools Initiative.

"This all started from the Department of Homeland Security and it's made its way here to us in Aiken at the local level," said Capt. Eric Abdullah with the Aiken County Sheriff's Office.

The program involves educating students, faculty and parents about critical incident procedures and how they are handled by schools and by law enforcement.

"We want our parents to be educated and to understand what it means when we're locking down the schools, when law enforcement responds, when the schools take certain actions. That's why we're implementing this program," Abdullah said.

Dozens of parents showed up at the meeting to learn about the program and express concerns about the issues they deal with when an event happens.

Kimberly Holdren's daughter is a student at Kennedy Middle School, where just last week, a suspicious device turned up in the bushes.

"My daughter came home from school and she was like, I got to spend two hours outside chatting with my friends," Holdren said.

But at that point, Holdren had no idea what she was talking about because she says parents were never contacted.

"Why isn't there a, 'Please don't come to campus, we're on a lockdown'? Why not that?" Holdren said. "There's technology out there. Why not just communicate with the parents?"

It's an issue she addressed at the meeting for Aiken County's new Safe Schools Initiative.

"What we heard and what we're gonna improve on and we've already heard that is communication with them when there is an event," said Deputy Superintendent David Caver.

They're also adding new safety measures, including buzzer systems to the front doors of all Aiken County public schools.

The first one was recently installed at South Aiken High School and the process is simple. Press the button and your picture will appear on a device, showing the people in the front office who's at the door.

Law enforcement deals with threats written on bathroom walls, social media sites and handwritten notes.

"It's not just bomb scares anymore," Holdren said. "It's a really scary world out there, and our kids are living in it."

They want students to know there are serious consequences for making threats from school-level discipline to the possibility of criminal charges.

They say they want and need to hear these concerns from parents so they can fix them. They are working on communication issues, including a new text system, but they say parental input is crucial to this initiative.

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