In Our Schools

By Dr. Akil E. Ross, Sr.

The topic of safety and security in our schools was at the forefront in our community when over
200 students walked out of Irmo High School at 3:08 p.m. on Friday, February 4, 2022. The
students walked out to emphasize their concerns about safety and security in their school. While
Irmo High School is not the only school with safety concerns, it was widely covered in the news
and social media. To address these concerns, I hosted a virtual Parent and Community Town
Hall on February 8, 2022. The Town Hall focused on three topics: (1) sexual harassment in
schools, (2) providing a safe and secure learning environment, and (3) sustainable solutions for
reducing negative behaviors while improving academic achievement.

School District Five of Lexington and Richland Counties is committed to providing a work and
student environment that is free of sexual harassment and will not tolerate sexual harassment
activity by any district employee, substitute employee, student, or third party. We will act quickly
and impartially to address claims of sexual harassment and discrimination and remedy the
effects of inappropriate acts of discrimination as outlined under Title IX of the Education
Amendments of 1972, the federal civil rights law prohibiting discrimination. The district has two
Title IX Coordinators, the Student Services Officer for students and the Chief Human Resource
Officer for staff. Additionally, each school has a Title IX investigator. Our student Title IX team
met with students to hear their stories and strengthen safety plans to protect students and hold
violators accountable. We believe this action prevented a second walkout planned on February 11.

Irmo High School transitioned to Virtual Learning on Monday, February 7, and Tuesday,
February 8 to give administration an opportunity to meet with teachers and staff and address
their concerns about safety protocols. Their feedback was instrumental in updating the tardy
policy, hall pass system, student identification practices, placement of new security cameras,
increased supervision presence, and school-wide behavioral expectations. On Wednesday,
February 8, students returned to Irmo High School to find a united faculty and staff following the
protocols outlined in the Virtual Town Hall. I met with the Irmo High Student Government
Officers who expressed appreciation for the clear and quiet hallways. The Town Hall promised
change, but Irmo High School delivered change.

There were 671 attendees to the virtual Town Hall meeting, and 399 comments and questions
were submitted. I could not respond to all of the questions, but I could respond to a common
theme that repeatedly surfaced. The most common theme was the process for dealing with “bad
students.” While I struggle with the notion of a “bad” student, I do recognize that we have many
students in our schools in “bad” social conditions. I will never tolerate anyone threatening,
bullying, or assaulting another, and there are clear consequences for these behaviors in our
student conduct code.

I believe “bad” behaviors are a result of unmet needs. Therefore, I am interested in what can be
done to prevent a student from engaging in misbehavior. As a result, I introduced The NEST.
The NEST is an intervention for Irmo High School students. It is designed to provide an
instructional opportunity that meets the social, mental, and behavioral needs of students within
the traditional school setting. This small-group setting surrounds students with multiple layers of
support including teachers, teacher’s assistants, expectation coaches, a clinical counselor, a
special education teacher, and an administrator. These layers of support increase instructional
time by addressing the behaviors that interrupt teaching and learning while improving problemsolving and conflict management skills. After 2 weeks, since the opening of The NEST,
discipline referrals are down 33% and students have shared that they have seen and
experienced improvement. Some have already transitioned out of The NEST because they met
their goals.

At the beginning of this school year, we committed to “Love and Grow Our Students.” Every
farmer knows that the soil determines the growth of the seed. We are committed to providing
the best learning environment for all students, and we thank those members of the community
for having donated time and resources to make our schools spaces where our children feel
loved and are able to grow.

I am a gardener,
A child’s potential my seed,
Nurturing mind, body and spirit,
Until the child can succeed.

The fruits of my labor,
Are not mine to possess,
I am a gardener,
Empowering the growth process.

I transform seed to fruit,
By strengthening stem and root.

I toil where no one sees,
To build up the least of these.

There is a reward,
For the gardener’s part,
When a child learns to love,
They share the Gardener’s Heart.

Author: Dr. Akil E. Ross, Sr