By Tony Kukulich
A teacher at Beaufort’s Mossy Oaks Elementary School discovered a loaded firearm in a staff bathroom at the school last week.
The weapon, a 9 mm handgun belonging to a school security guard, was unattended for approximately three minutes, said Candace Bruder, director of communications for the Beaufort County School District (BCSD). The teacher reported the weapon to the school principal after its discovery.
Mossy Oaks Principal Melissa Vogt sent an email to parents notifying them of the incident that occurred Tuesday, Feb. 1. In that email she stated, “At no time did any students come into contact with this weapon.”
The security guard, who was not identified, was employed by GuardOne Security and had been assigned to the school district since Nov. 4, 2021.
“This individual is not allowed back on school property for any reason,” said Bruder in an email to The Island News. “GuardOne Security has a strict policy regarding the failure to control weapons.”
According to Bruder, GuardOne Security guards receive 32 hours of training, while the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division requires only eight.
“Safety and retention of weapons is a key part of their training curriculum,” she added.
In October 2019, the Beaufort County Board of Education directed the district to pursue the use of a private firm to provide armed security guards for the district’s elementary schools. While middle schools and high schools in the district had school resource officers (SRO) assigned, elementary schools at the time shared five community resource officers among the 22 campuses. The board further directed that the use of a private security firm should eventually be phased out in favor of using SROs from local law enforcement agencies.
An SRO is a sworn law enforcement officer who has completed a state-approved SRO course. Private security guards are generally trained to a lower standard than an approved SRO course.
During its Oct. 1, 2021 meeting, the board authorized a contract with S&S Management Group, LLC, doing business as GuardOne Security, to provide those security services
“The board and district are open to staffing new SROs at all our elementary schools,” Bruder said. “However, the problem is that local law enforcement agencies cannot provide them at this time.”
According to the GuardOne website, the firm operates from 25 locations primarily concentrated in the South. A call seeking comment from GuardOne Security was not returned as of press time. However, GuardOne did issue a directive to BCSD security guards on the same day the incident at Mossy Oaks occurred.
“Firearms are obviously a tool used for the safety and security of the Beaufort County School District campuses and must be handled with extreme care and not mishandled,” read the directive signed by Roger Heaton, GuardOne Security branch manager. “Carelessness, horseplay or disregard for the safety of others in the use, handling or storage of firearms is strictly prohibited and will subject offenders to disciplinary action including termination. Each officer is responsible to properly secure their weapon when it is not in their direct physical control.”
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 and his wife enjoy exploring their new home state. He can also frequently be found playing bass guitar with a couple of local bands. He can be reached at email@example.com.