081017 Schools: District hopes law will catch up with policy banning drones
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A drone hovers over beachgoers on Pawleys Island.

Schools: District hopes law will catch up with policy banning drones

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Beyond the cheers in the stands and above the action on the gridiron, Georgetown County school officials will keep an ear and an eye out for drones during the high school football season. A policy up for review by the school board would ban drone flights from or over district property without approval from the superintendent.

Whether the policy could be enforced is also up in the air.

“We probably don’t have a lot of enforcement,” said Lindsey Anne Thompson, the district’s staff attorney. She hopes that the state and federal government will catch up in regulating the craft. “This is a good step in giving us some ground to work from,” she said.

Alan Walters, the district’s risk manager, proposed the policy after a federal court threw out an FAA regulation requiring hobbyists to register drones. Those drones weighing under 55 pounds are classified as model aircraft, with safety rules developed by user associations.

Walters’ principal concern is about the risk of a drone falling into a crowd. Ballfields are at the top of his list because fans want to see overhead views similar to professional sports.

One way the district might enforce its restriction is through state laws about disturbing school, Walters said. “We’ll come up with the actual protocols,” he said.

The town of Pawleys Island explored its options on drones a couple of years ago and decided to wait. “We were looking to the state or federal level to determine if there were going to be some regulations,” Town Attorney David DuRant said. “There are some issues over privacy and safety.”

Two bills that limit drone operations are still pending in the state legislature. One would keep them 500 feet from military installations (400 feet by air). The other would keep them 500 feet from state prisons (250 feet by air). They passed the Senate this year and were sent to the House.

The FAA rules require model aircraft be within the operator’s line of sight and follow a “community-based set of safety guidelines.”

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