Parents question St. James High evacuation procedures

Parents of students at St. James High School are questioning why the evacuation was handled the way it was after burned American flags were found outside the entrance to the school Monday morning.

Parents got an automated telephone message about the incident and were told to come and pick up their kids from St. James Middle School.

The video attached to this story shows one parent's account of the experience.

Many told us it took two to three hours in some cases for them to get their kids.

"I mean, I think it has been fine up until this point, but when they tell the students that they can leave and not follow through with how to get the students off the school property. It's ludicrous. I mean, they need to follow through," said Amy Munday, a parent of a St. James High student.

Parents waited in the sun outside the school or in cars on Highway 707 at the entrance to the school.

Munday told us she saw no police officers or teachers present to help direct traffic, calling it a "free-for all" where parents were told to park anywhere they could.

Other parents said once they actually got through the vehicle traffic, they had to endure more lines and long waits once they made it to the middle school.

According to Van Pennell, principal of St. James High School, only one computer terminal, which checks students out, was working. Pennell said the others weren't functioning properly because of

WiFi connections. Therefore, students had to be checked out one-by-one.

"With everything considered, we knew there would be an issue with checking kids out, and once you put 1,500 more kids on campus where there are two schools back-to-back with limited parking, we understood that. We just hope people understand that our main concern, and we hate to inconvenience them, is the safety of our kids," Pennell said.

Many parents also wanted to know why the school even opened after the burned flags were found.

Pennell told WPDE NewsChannel 15 that students were allowed to go to school on Monday morning, because the administration was under the impression the flag burning was only an act of vandalism. After Horry County police reviewed the surveillance video, they became concerned that the incident may have been more serious than just vandalism.

Because the weather was hot and the police investigation took longer than expected, the school wanted to get the students to a place that had air conditioning, bathrooms, and water to drink and food to eat. That's when students were bussed to the middle school.

Since Pennell became principal four years ago, he hasn't had to evacuate the students off school grounds. He said there have been fire drills or minor emergencies, but each time, the school has kept the students at the high school until the problem is fixed.

School will resume as normal Tuesday at St. James High.