Beaufort Co. students, parents ‘terrified’ by unannounced school safety drill

An unannounced safety drill by Beaufort County School District sent Beaufort High School students, parents and teachers into a panic Monday afternoon when the school was suddenly beset by a darkly dressed district staff member posing as an intruder.

“Nice job Beaufort County School District,” Beaufort High parent Jordan Elizabeth Posey wrote on Facebook after the incident. “I understand drills but to have a person dressed in all black, BREAK AND THEN JUMP through the window of the high school CLASSROOM like a ninja, and run through the hallways, sending the school into what they ALL thought was a real lockdown was a BIT OVERKILL.”

Posey, who later deleted the post, clarified Monday evening that her calling the “intruder” a ninja was a joke.

During the drill, her student’s teacher was texting his wife in a panic, she said.

“My 9th grader was terrified,” Joe Tidwell commented on Posey’s post. “My 11th grader knew they have a history of over reacting...”

District spokesman Jim Foster confirmed Monday that district safety chief David Grissom dressed up and entered the school as an intruder as part of a routine drill.

Grissom wore a dark blue hoodie — sometimes with the hood up — black shorts, black tennis shoes and a baseball cap. “There was no ninja,” Foster said, and he “never ran” or broke a window.

When asked whether Grissom entered the building through a window, Foster declined to answer, citing concerns about publicizing safety vulnerabilities.

Grissom spoke extensively about the district’s safety drills at a board of education meeting last week, ahead of the board’s unanimous decision to hire armed private security guards for the district’s elementary schools.

“When I conduct safety audits, I actually dress down. I’ll put a hat on, some jeans, a leather jacket or whatever, and I walk around,” Grissom told the board Tuesday. “I call dispatch, tell them where I’m at, what I’m doing, and I actually walk around the school, trying to open doors, trying to open windows, trying to get kids to let me in.”

“Once I’m finished with that I go inside the school,” he continued. “I don’t have my ID on me. I keep it in my pocket and I walk around and see who will challenge me, see who notices that I don’t belong.”

Foster said Grissom tries to do one of these safety audits at every school once a year, and that they have occurred for at least eight years. This is the first time they have had a reaction like this in his memory, he said.

Beaufort High School posted about the incident on Facebook shortly after it occurred, stating “district policies and procedures were followed and notifications were made as soon as possible.”

“We went into modified lock down followed by a full lock down to assess and take action regarding a report of an intruder on campus,” the school’s post read. “Although we had no pre-knowledge of the drill, we were able to quickly locate the BCSD Staff Member who was posing as the intruder.”

Posey said she didn’t want to spread misinformation, but was alarmed the difference in her 9th grader’s response to this drill versus past district lockdowns and drills.

“Children crying, teachers scared, and me racing to the school after getting texts from my TERRIFIED daughter...not ok,” she wrote. “Traumatizing the kids and staff is probably too much in my opinion.”

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Rachel Jones covers education for the Island Packet and the Beaufort Gazette. She attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and has worked for the Daily Tar Heel and Charlotte Observer. Rachel grew up in Ayden, NC, surrounded by teachers.