Records show alarm inactive over weekend students entered school – Coastal Observer


Records show alarm inactive over weekend students entered school

An employee photographed the rooftop air handler.

On a Sunday evening in May, tents popped up in the senior parking lot at Waccamaw High. What happened over the course of the night fueled rumors that persisted through the graduation ceremony two weeks later and led to an investigation by the Georgetown County School District.

It also fueled claims by the local chapter of the NAACP that there is one standard for the Waccamaw schools and another for the rest of the county.

A “senior prank” at Waccamaw High during the night of May 21-22 caused no damage to the school and led to in-school suspension for four students, according to information released last week by the school district in response to an open records request.

But the records show that the alarm system at the school was inactive over the entire weekend. A student entered through a door that had not been shut completely, said Lindsay Anne Thompson, the district’s in-house attorney who spent last week investigating the incident.

Employees had been in the school on that Sunday afternoon. The open door was in the “gym area,” Thompson said.

“The door was not broken,” she said.

A student entered and let other students in through another door. Alan Walters, the district’s director of safety, reviewed school security video. He said no more than five students were visible at any time, but didn’t count how many total students were involved.

The students put balloons, confetti and streamers in the cafeteria and front entrance; sprayed silly string in the front office and on a copier; spray painted “Class of 2023” in red on a roof-top HVAC unit and in two other places on the roof; and sprayed cooking oil on the floor of the gym lobby.

Two students drove their vehicles on the track in front of the home stands. Others were seen on security video in the press box and in four or five tents in front of the school.

The building was cleaned by custodians before the start of class on Monday. 

Two students who witnesses said climbed on the roof to paint the HVAC unit were called to the office when they returned to school on Tuesday and admitted their involvement, according to a report by the principal, Adam George.

The students who drove their vehicles in front of the home stands on the track in what Thompson called a “mock race,” could not be identified from security video, but administrators and the school resource officer, Sgt. A.J. Kohut, got their names from other students. They were also called to the office on Tuesday.

All the students received three days of in-school suspension, which Thompson said required them to return after classes had ended for the year.

She said other students admitted their role in the incident and offered to help clean up. Since the custodians had already done the work, the students took up a collection and bought gift cards for the custodians.

No other students were disciplined, Thompson said.

Kohut determined there was no criminal activity to report, she said.

Earlier this spring, the school’s Warrior mascot was taken from the stadium during the night. It is the annual target of pranks and school officials waited to see if it returned before reporting it stolen.

The Warrior was back in place on the weekend students entered the school for the next senior prank. It generated some surprised looks, but no comments.

The incident was different. One parent used the district’s StopIt app to report that their child had talked about seeing video of
students drinking beer in the bathroom, throwing eggs in the school and trashing classrooms. 

“My child’s descriptions sound like vandalism to me,” the parent said. “I haven’t received a message from the school today about this behavior not being tolerated.”

The parent called for an investigation.

Thompson said a review of the security video showed nothing beyond what staff had reported. She also searched social media for images of the incident. The only one she found showed the vehicles on the track, which was not damaged.

There are no security cameras in the bathrooms, but Walters said that his review didn’t show anything that made him believe the students had alcohol.

“He would have been all over that,” Thompson said. “I don’t think it was nearly as interesting as the rumors were. The rumor mill just took off and ran with it.”

Those included a claim that school staff had been complicit in the incident.

“The kids said, ‘Mr. George gave us permission,’ ” Thompson said. “Mr. George has denied involvement.”

Because of the “community uproar, we said we’d better double and triple check,” she said.

Thompson reviewed emails for George and other staff members for a period of six weeks. She found no communication with students about the incident.

It was not determined who did not close the door that allowed students into the school, Thompson said. 

The log from the school’s alarm system showed it was turned off at 6:08 a.m. on Friday, but not reset until 9:35 p.m. Monday.

“There would be no real trigger to know that the alarm was not set,” Thompson said.

That has changed in the wake of the incident. The alarm at Waccamaw High is now set to switch on automatically. That is a new feature of the security system that hadn’t been used before.

“There is no longer a human element involved,” Thompson said.



Georgetown County Board of Education: First and third Tuesdays, 5:30 p.m., Beck Education Center. For details, go to Georgetown County Council: Second and fourth Tuesdays, 5:30 p.m., Council Chambers, 129 Screven St., Georgetown. For details, go to Pawleys Island Town Council: Second Mondays, 5 p.m. Town Hall, 323 Myrtle Ave. For details, go to   , .