Districts Clamor for Safeguards In Wake of Massacre

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Williamson County Superintendent Mike Looney, via flickr

Williamson County Superintendent Mike Looney, via flickr

Since the horrific school shooting in Connecticut last month, officials in Tennessee have reviewed and drilled campus lockdown plans, talked about arming teachers, and rushed to hire more guards. Yesterday hundreds of administrators and police gathered to discuss how to keep the state’s 900 thousand students safe, at a summit announced just days after the Newtown massacre.

Experts flew in like former New York City school safety director Gregory Thomas, who urged officials to “market” the idea “that schools continue to be the best place for children to be while parents are at work or at home.”

Playing host were the wealthy school districts of Franklin and Williamson County, which just set aside a couple million dollars so schools without armed guards can get one – and a sworn officer at that, says director Mike Looney:

“For Williamson County, we are committed to hiring trained, licensed police officers – in this case it’s going to be sheriff’s deputies. I think that’s critically important because they’ve been trained on deadly force.”

Several other school districts are weighing similar proposals, including Rutherford County, but not all can afford to hire more officers – if they have any to begin with. In Milan, a town in West Tennessee with just one elementary, one middle- and one high school, Superintendent Mary Reel says backup is close.

“We’re a city school district, so we have our police department. Their response time – minute to two minutes and they can be to us. But still, that minute to two minutes in the latest incident would’ve been tremendous to have someone right there.”

Response-time is also a concern for Dan Lawson, who directs schools in Tullahoma, including a high school of around twelve hundred students. Lawson says it’s a huge building, and one guard there would be hard-pressed to get to a shooting in the few seconds it might take to unfold. And anyway, Lawson says, if there were police to spare, they might do more good outside school:

“Is it more reasonable to put a couple of officers on the street where I know I’m going to have more risk, where I know they’re going to respond to more things, than it is to place them in schools? That’s the real metric with which we’re dealing.”

Lawson brings up something he heard at the conference: In the rare event that kids between age 5 and 18 die, it almost never happens in school. But as the grisly memories from Connecticut linger, that statistic might not make parents feel much better.


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