Working Group Releases Recommendations; Puts Forth Plan To Significantly Increase Funding For School Safety & Security

The working group organized to make recommendations for immediate enhancements to school safety across the state officially released their proposals this week in Nashville. The working group identified three immediate priorities:

1. A review and risk assessment of all school facilities to identify vulnerabilities;

2. An increase in available resources to help secure school resource officers (SROs);

3. And a statewide technology application for anonymous reporting of security threats.

The group’s proposal directs 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 risk. 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. The risk assessment will be based on model security standards identified by the 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, the state agencies have been asked to complete 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 this year’s budget, are utilized to address the identified risks.

One such area of risk, and the second priority identified by the working group, is the availability of trained school safety personnel and school resource officers. For the schools in the state that do not have SROs on-site, lack of funding is often cited as a primary reason. The proposed 2018-2019 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. And, to address immediate needs while further 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 focuses on providing a statewide technology application for the anonymous reporting of threats or suspicious activity by students, faculty, staff, and others. The concept 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. As part of this recommendation, Governor Haslam has directed the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse to work in conjunction with the Department of Education 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.

All children in Tennessee deserve to learn in a safe and secure environment and House Republicans stand in support of the recommendations of the working group to make immediate, impactful, and unprecedented security improvements in Tennessee schools.