State leaders and school officials across Tennessee gathered this week to weigh in on a pressing issue in wake of the Newtown, Connecticut school shooting—how can we make schools safer?
“I am a father of a second grade teacher and when I heard the stories about the teachers huddled in classrooms with their kids, like any other parent I picture my daughter huddling there with her eight and nine year olds. And so the discussion becomes particularly relevant and personal for all of us,” Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam said to attendees at the school safety summit.
“Tell me from what you do, everyday, what are the things that we can do that will make a difference?”
The audience was made up of representatives of more than 120 school districts. They shared best practices and heard from state agencies including mental health officials, emergency management, and homeland security.
“The governor’s message is that all of our schools have continuously been working on our security protocols but this is a time to improve…It’s our responsibility to really look at our security plans and really work on making adjustments,” said Tony Majors, Assistant Superintendant of Student Services for Metro Nashville Public Schools .
And thoughts on what adjustments should be made vary. There have been talks in Tennessee to introduce legislation that would require all schools to have an armed staff member of some kind. Governor Haslam says he will review the legislation when it is introduced, but for now, is looking at other options.
“I don’t think the answer for us is necessarily to rush in and say, well we’re going to put SROs [school resource officers] everywhere. I actually met with the sheriff’s office last week and we talked about that and they said you know our problem with that is, when we come to a school we’re looking for the adult with the weapon. And now our folks coming in we have an issue, they’re not just looking for ‘here’s the guy with the gun, that’s the bad guy’, it’s a little bit more difficult for them. So I think there’s questions in my mind about how practical that would be,” said Haslam.
Metro Nashville Public Schools has already gotten the ball rolling on increasing security measures in schools, including placing surveillance cameras in all elementary schools, installing standard locking mechanisms on all classroom doors, and requiring stricter identification procedures for visitors.
Governor Haslam also shared parts of his budget proposal for the coming year, which includes 34 million dollars towards capital improvements in schools across the state. This money can be used towards increased security but that will be left up to individual school districts to decide.