There are a lot of issues that need to be addressed in school safety. This area deserves more scrutiny. We cannot lose focus that six innocent people lost their lives at the Covenant School here in Nashville.
Teaching is not an eight-hour-a-day, five-day-a-week job. There are many duties that educators tackle that do not require pedagogical skills or experience in the classroom but are necessary for the profession. School safety is now on the minds of most educators. What is clear, we have a lot of work ahead to secure all schools in our state.
How bad is it? Safety expert Brink Fidler told Investigative Journalist Dennis Ferrier of FOX 17 that Metro Nashville Public Schools was the most “unprepared group of people he had ever seen.” He added this about the system, “...no training, no SROs in elementary, no trauma kits, no ballistic glass, no security cameras.”
That is precisely what Governor Bill Lee has put forth in his school safety plan which mirrors what Professional Educators of Tennessee has championed in the last few years. Lee is long rumored to have national ambition for higher office, and his ability to make schools safe gives him the ability to lead nationally on this critical issue.
We strongly support Governor Lee’s plan to add $30 million to expand a statewide homeland security network with 122 agents serving students at both public and private schools; $140 million to establish a School Resource Officer (SRO) grant fund to place a trained, armed security guard at every public school; $20 million for public school security upgrades; $7 million for private school security upgrades; and, $8 million for additional school-based behavioral health liaisons across the state. This is in addition to other safety items that are already in the budget.
It is critical that every school and daycare in this state develops a safety plan. They need to continuously look to improve that plan, at least annually if not more often. Buildings must be safe. Look at entry points and secure them. Strongly consider using ballistic glass. We must have school resource officers (SROs) or armed security. We prefer the inclusion of school resource officers because of other issues like human trafficking, drugs, along with assaults on educators and students. Roughly 30% of Tennessee’s public schools did not have SROs this year, and private schools need to strongly consider better security measures like armed security guards as well. School cameras should be in use and visible. We want to deter people who want to harm children and those who educate them.
We know that active shooter situations are unpredictable and evolve quickly. And these situations are often over within 10 to 15 minutes. We need people who can respond quickly. We also know that training must happen for educators and students. The Stop the Bleed program will also be added to the growing list of tasks that educators must learn. We must make everyone aware of their responsibility. We need safety drills. It is better to practice and not need to use these skills than to find out we are unprepared too late. We need to also look at safety for special education children.
Ed Week observed that school shooters normally have several things in common: “They suffered early-childhood trauma and exposure to violence at a young age. They were angry or despondent over a recent event, resulting in feelings of suicidality.” Mental health is now a critical element in public education. We are likely heading for a debate on guns as well.
A former police officer and paramedic Tracey Mendenhall added parents need to “make sure that those teachers get the training that they need and the equipment that they need.” From the community to the school board to the school administration to teachers to students, safety starts with the mindset: we are not going to be victims.
Governor Lee should be commended for his ongoing work on school safety. School safety must be an ongoing process of continuous improvement moving forward.
JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee.