News13 Investigates: Law prompts new statewide school safety, fire plans

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CONWAY, SC (WBTW) – As homework begins piling up for students in South Carolina, school districts across the state will have an assignment of their own – developing school safety and security plans.

The task stems from recent state legislation signed by Gov. Henry McMaster, following a News13 investigation that started in 2013. Our team brought the lack of school fire inspections to the attention of Sen. Greg Hembree (R – North Myrtle Beach), who proposed S. 709 as a result of our findings.

“Many of the regulations and statues we had in place were so outdated,” Hembree admitted. “They were really kind of laughable.”

As signed, S. 709 will require public school districts and charter schools to adopt certain fire and safety policies and programs before the 2020-2021 school year. The legislation and subsequent individual fire and safety plans will require schools to conduct a certain number of fire drills, shooter/intruder drills and severe weather/earthquake drills during each semester.

“If we can’t provide a safe environment for the children to learn, then we just need to stop what we’re doing and get that right,” Hembree added. “Because that’s a fundamental, foundational element of K-12 education.”

The legislation requires the South Carolina Office of the State Fire Marshal and South Carolina Department of Education to release policy and program guidelines before the 2019-2020 school year. As of the release of this report, those guidelines are still being finalized.

When those guidelines are released, Horry County Schools thinks it’ll be in a good position to easily develop its required plan.

“It’s important to never sit back and think that we never have to do anything more because our plans, our policies, our response models are in a constant state of flux,” said David Beaty, Horry County Schools Coordinator of School Safety and Security. “We’re always evaluating them, seeing what we can do to improve them, make them more effective.”

Beaty says Horry County schools are required to do a monthly fire drill, have two weather-related drills throughout the year and an intruder drill within the first three weeks of each semester.

“We’ve had the drills in place for a number of years,” Beaty said. There’s also a component of having a formal emergency response plan. We’ve had that in place for well over a decade, if not longer. A lot of these things that S. 709 addresses, we’ve had in place.”

Under the law, fire and safety guidelines will also become mandatory in teacher development. Districts will then have to document compliance and report it to the state.

“If you can’t develop it, if you don’t have the expertise, we’ll sit down with you and basically give you the model plan and help tailor it to your situation,” Hembree said.

It is unclear when the state will push the draft guidelines to school districts across South Carolina, but when it does, Beaty says Horry County Schools will be ready.

“With the implementation of S. 709, to me, it’s a good first step in pushing out a global model across the state as far as training, proficiency standards and education,” Beaty said.

A representative for the state fire marshal’s office says the angency and the department of education is finalizing the model fire and safety policies and program guidelines. Once that happens, the education department will make htem available to each school district and charter school in the state.

Count on News13 to continue following our developing investigation.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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