Richland One administration building in Columbia (Photo by Bee Brawley)
Richland School District One could get more school resource officers if it continues to see an increase in weapons on school grounds, Superintendent Craig Witherspoon said during a board meeting last week.
But nothing is changing right now.
As of Tuesday, the district has no plans to increase the number of student resource officers in schools, said Karen York, Richland One’s executive director of communications.
But on Oct. 25, Witherspoon told trustees, “Depending on incidences and depending on what happens working with law enforcement, that number — or that support — can change.”
York told The Carolina News & Reporter via email that Witherspoon’s comment was made in reference to recent threatening prank calls made to several Richland One schools.
“They were referring to the recent hoax phone calls that were made when the callers claimed there were active shooters in the schools when there were not,” York said.
A recording of the meeting on the district’s website, however, does not show trustees discussing the prank calls at that time.
Richland One board member Aaron Bishop is shown on the video asking how many SROs were assigned to district schools. And he asked if more deputies shouldn’t be added as weapons incidents increase.
Witherspoon told him larger high schools have two officers, while smaller ones have only one. Then Witherspoon said that could be subject to change.
The conversation comes after new data shows Columbia schools have seen a high number of weapons on school grounds. Columbia’s numbers are among the highest in the state, according to the S.C. School Report Card.
Richland One had 14 reported incidents of a student carrying a firearm or explosive on school grounds during the 2021-22 academic year. The district has seen consecutive increases since 2018, according to the S.C. Department of Education. Richland School District 2 had 10 incidents in the same period. Greenville County Schools, a countywide district, had 22 incidents – the most in the state.
Schools with more than 1,000 students have two SROs on site, said Lt. Verlon Rhodes of the Richland County Sheriff’s Department, which supplies deputies to all county schools at the districts’ request. As student populations increase, so should the number of officers on the grounds, Rhodes told The Carolina News & Reporter.
While it is unclear whether Richland One will ask for additional student resources officers in the future, having more officers on site would be a benefit to students, Rhodes said.
“The more officers you have, the more presence you have,” he said.
Often, whether school districts have additional resource officers comes down to funding, Rhodes said.
“The districts or the schools may not be able to afford the number that may be needed,” Rhodes said, “But it would definitely help. It would be an asset to have additional SROs at the schools.”