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Beaufort County School Superintendent Frank Rodriguez, right, discusses ongoing training and other safety measures in all Beaufort County schools during a joint press conference with law enforcement leadership Wednesday afternoon at the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office. At left is Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner, who also described some of the ongoing training between law enforcement officers, teachers and school administration. Photo by Bob Sofaly.

School district, law enforcement officials discuss campus safety

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By Tony Kukulich

In the wake of the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas that resulted in the death of 19 elementary school students and two teachers, Beaufort County officials held a press conference to address concerns about school shootings and school safety.

Beaufort County School District Superintendent Frank Rodriguez was joined by representatives from law enforcement agencies north and south of the Broad River as he addressed reporters in the headquarters of the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office.

“I know that we all hugged our children a little tighter today and a little longer today as we all have seen and heard about the devastating tragedy at an Uvalde, Texas elementary school,” Rodriguez said. “Our hearts and prayers go out to their entire community.”

The press conference took place a day after the shooting, and many details about the incident were still unknown at the time. It has since been widely reported that three Uvalde Police Department officers engaged the shooter, 18-year-old Salvador Ramos, two minutes after he entered the building at 11:33 a.m. Two of those officers received superficial wounds in an exchange of gunfire with Ramos, and the officers then retreated.

As parents of Robb Elementary School students gathered at the school, it was approximately another 75 minutes before officers made entry into the two adjoining classrooms which Ramos occupied. A specialized team of officers from the U.S. Border Patrol fired 27 times, killing Ramos. He is believed to have fired more than 100 rounds from one of two assault rifles purchased legally just days before the shooting. In addition to the 21 deaths, more than a dozen were reported to have been injured.

Criticism of the police response to the Uvalde shooting has come from all corners. The investigation into the incident and the police response is being handled by the Texas Rangers.

Rodriguez said that his office fielded only a few calls from parents after the shooting. Most asked about the availability of mental health service for district students and about the presence of school resource officers (SRO) in district schools.

Bluffton Police Chief Stephenie Price stressed the importance of utilizing free county mental health resources for students in need and the necessity of reporting any concerns regarding the threat of violence to district or school officials.

“The best thing that we can always do is prevent anything like that from happening in the first place with the support and the services that students might need,” Rodriguez added.

Beaufort County School District middle and high schools have SROs assigned. The elementary schools use a private security firm that was deployed in the fall of 2021. Direction from the district’s board indicated that the private security firm should eventually be phased out in favor of using SROs from local law enforcement agencies.

“We look forward to the ability to continue to bring on additional SROs into our school system,” Rodriguez said. “Typically from the state, there’s typically the opportunity to try to bring on board two additional SROs per year if they’re available. That’s something we will continue to do.”

Active shooter training is done on a repetitive basis, said Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner. That training includes multiple local agencies as well as other first responders that would typically be expected to respond to an active shooter incident.

“School security is a topic all of us speak about quite regularly,” said Chief Dale McDorman of the Beaufort Police Department. “We are doing everything we can to address these issues before they happen, and we’ll continue to do that.”

Tony Kukulich is a recent transplant to the Lowcountry. A native of Wilmington, Del., he comes to The Island News from the San Francisco Bay Area where he spent seven years as a reporter and photographer for several publications. He can be reached at tony.theislandnews@gmail.com.

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