Tennessee to undertake first ever security assessment of all schools

Gov. Bill Haslam (Photo: State of Tennessee)

Authored By Staff Report

Gov. Bill Haslam announced his approval of recommended security enhancements to school safety.

Recommendations came from the school safety work group Haslam appointed last month.

The group identified three key priorities:

  •  A review and risk assessment of all school facilities to identify vulnerabilities
  •  An increase in available resources to help secure school resource officers
  • A statewide technology application for anonymous reporting of security threats

Haslam directed the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security, in conjunction with the Tennessee Department of Education and local officials, to immediately begin development and implementation of a statewide assessment of every public elementary and secondary school in the state to identify areas of risks, according to a news release.

Haslam said in a prepared statement:

All children in Tennessee deserve to learn in a safe and secure environment, and I appreciate the efficient and thorough work of the school safety working group. The recommendations of the working group, coupled with increased investment, provide a path to making immediate, impactful and unprecedented security improvements in our schools and also lay the groundwork for longer-term actions around training, drills and mental health support.

While all school districts currently have safety plans, this will be the first time that the state has led a comprehensive effort to determine the security needs at each individual school, according to a news release.

The risk assessment will be based on model security standards identified by Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security, with assessment training provided by state homeland security officials to local school district personnel and first responders.

As this is the first priority identified by the working group, Haslam has asked the state agencies to ensure completion of the assessments before students return to school for the 2018-19 school year.

Following the school security assessments, and on an annual basis thereafter, each school’s emergency operations plan must ensure specific facility risks are identified and updated and that state school safety resources, including the additional $30 million proposed in the governor’s fiscal year 2019 budget, are utilized to address the identified risks, according to a news release.

One such area of risk and the second priority identified by the working group is the availability of trained school safety personnel or school resource officers.For the schools in the state that do not have school resource officers on-site, lack of funding is often cited as a primary reason.

The governor’s proposed budget and school safety plan doubles the amount of recurring school safety grant funding for schools, which can be used toward SROs or other facility security measures, according to a news release.

To address immediate needs—while additional state, local and federal conversations around school security and budgeting take place— total state school safety grant funding would increase by more than 500 percent for the upcoming fiscal year.

The third immediate priority of the working group, also adopted by Haslam, is for the state to provide a statewide technology application for the anonymous reporting of threats or suspicious activity by students, faculty, staff and others.

The concept, which Haslam is also pushing for a 2018-19 school year implementation, would provide for direct communication among and between the individual reporting the threat or activity and the state, local law enforcement officials and local school districts.

The working group also recommended the promotion of positive behavioral health for all students.

Haslam has directed the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services to work to expand training areas, including training on strategies to increase awareness and responsiveness to signs and symptoms of student behavioral health and mental health needs.

The General Assembly will consider Haslam’s school safety budget proposal over the next few weeks.