PHOTO: The Tennessee tristar flag flies at half staff outside the Williamson County Administrative Complex on Thursday, February 15, after the deadly mass shooting in Parkland Florida 24 hours prior.//Brooke Wanser
By BROOKE WANSER
A specially appointed committee by Gov. Bill Haslam has come up with several measures to improve public school safety in the aftermath of the deadly Parkland, Florida school shooting on Valentine’s Day.
Last week, Haslam added an additional $30 million to the state’s budget to address security and safety concerns in Tennessee public schools.
Recommendations from the Governor’s School Safety Working Group, which were submitted to the governor on Monday, March 26, are three-tiered:
Review and risk assessment of school facilities
After the fatal shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Williamson County Schools employees responded by taking President’s Day to refresh their safety plan and work through safety drills.
The state Department of Safety and Homeland Security and Department of Education will begin working on a statewide assessment of each public elementary and secondary school to identify risk areas. This will be the first comprehensive, statewide initiative on school security.
Assessment trainings will be provided to schools by state homeland security officials, and Haslam has asked that agencies complete assessments prior to the start of the 2018-2019 school year.
Increase resources to secure school resource officers (SROs)
Though all county schools have an SRO, and the county commission recently approved eight more positions, many school districts in the state have none.
Part of the earmarked funds would be put toward hiring safety officers in communities without that resource.
Statewide technology app for reporting security threats
The committee’s third recommendation is for a statewide technology application to anonymously report threats or suspicious activity by students and faculty.
Haslam wants such an app to create direct communication with the individual report and law enforcement and school district officials; his goal is to have it available for the 2018-2019 school year.
Promotion of positive behavioral health
The group also identified promoting positive behavioral health as an important factor in reducing school violence.
Under Haslam’s direction, the state Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services to work with the Department of Education to expand mental health training, including early and periodic screening for mental health needs and creating and expanding behavioral health services.
The committee recommended the Basic Eduation Plan (BEP) Committee conduct a review of current behavioral health staff at schools and recommend professionals who would enhance the school’s environment and learning climate.
“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,” said Haslam in a press release. “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.”
The Tennessee General Assembly will consider the committee’s recommendations and Haslam’s school safety budget before breaking by the end of April.