TN Governor issues executive order to enhance school safety

Governor Bill Lee signed an executive order Monday directing accountability measures for school safety and an evaluation of training for state law enforcement.
Published: Jun. 6, 2022 at 6:37 AM CDT

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WSMV) - Governor Bill Lee signed an executive order Monday directing accountability measures for school safety and an evaluation of training for Tennessee law enforcement.

In the wake of the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, in late May that claimed the lives of 19 children and two adults, lawmakers around the country are reexamining safety measures in schools.

Officials said in addition to enhancing school safety, the order also established additional resources to support parents, teachers, and law enforcement in improving school security practices.

“Parents need to have full confidence that their children are safe at school, and thankfully, Tennessee has built a firm foundation with our practical approach to securing schools, recognizing crisis, and providing confidential reporting of any suspicious activity,” said Gov. Lee. “This order strengthens accountability and transparency around existing school safety planning and assures Tennessee parents that our efforts to protect students and teachers will continue.”

For Parents

This new order is set to create a School Safety Resources and Engagement Guide to provide parents with information regarding effectively engaging and advocating for safe conditions at their child’s school.

The Guide will also include tips on reporting suspicious or concerning activity through the SafeTN App. There will also be resources to access mental health care for their child and inquire about building security and compliance at their child’s school.

The executive order also encourages parents, families, and the local community to engage in school safety and partner with law enforcement to promote the habits and practices that help ensure school building security against unauthorized intruders.

Gov. Lee said by implementing simple practices, such as ensuring a single point of entry and multiple points of exit, securing vestibules and other access points, and reporting suspicious activity, communities can vastly increase the security of their local school.

For Schools

Officials said the executive order would direct Tennessee state agencies to provide additional guidance to help local school districts implement existing school safety laws. The safety law would require each public school to conduct an annual security assessment and submit a school safety plan to the Tennessee school safety center.

The guidance will include the following:

  • An increase in periodic audits of Tennessee local school security assessments and school safety plans, including but not limited to random in-person verification by state officials of a school’s implementation of the approved evaluation;
  • A set of best practices for school leaders to enhance building security and safety against an unauthorized intruders; and
  • District and local government leadership information regarding financial resources for school safety are available through state programs and the Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement Act.

LEAs will receive updates on the School Safety Plan Template to be published no later than July 1st and include greater detail on:

  • A description of deficiencies identified by the LEA when conducting the school security assessment;
  • A description of district spending on building security and other school safety initiatives and how such expenditures mitigate the identified deficiencies; and
  • Designation of the district’s single point of contact for school safety matters.

The executive order will also ensure that LEAs receive guidance from the State Fire Marshal’s Office and other state agencies regarding appropriately improving school building security. According to Gov. Lee, this will also maintain the emergency egress and safeguard life and property from fire and explosion hazards.

The Department of Education will also be directed to request permission from the federal government for districts to use existing federal ESSER funds to conduct a fulsome, independent safety assessment, including identifying necessary facility upgrades.

The Department of Education will also be required to identify regional staff to support school safety in LEAs through repurposing existing staff to focus on safety, mental health, and family and community engagement.

Educators, school leaders, and staff will also be offered additional training materials regarding school safety no later than Aug. 1st, 2022.

For Law Enforcement

The executive order will require law enforcement members to evaluate and assess training standards, recommend expansions, improvements, or enhancements to existing training for active-shooter scenarios, and provide a report to the Gov. with recommendations to expand its availability to local law enforcement agencies and related education stakeholders.

The Department of Commerce and Insurance will also be directed to review the use of armed security guards in non-public schools and, with the Department of Safety and Homeland Security, report to the Gov. regarding the need for active-shooter training for armed guards.

Gov. Lee went on to say that the order will call for new strategies to expand local and state law enforcement agencies by increasing the number of Tennesseans exploring and pursuing careers in law enforcement.

Previous actions to strengthen school safety

  • In 2019, the Governor established a School Resource Officer (SRO) Grant program placing 213 new SROs in Tennessee public schools.
  • Efforts also doubled the state’s annual investment in school safety funding to support improvements in building security measures and violence intervention programming.
  • School safety investments remain a top priority under the new TISA funding formula.
  • The Tennessee Department of Safety & Homeland Security developed a free app called SafeTN, which is an anonymous reporting system for students, faculty, parents, and the public to efficiently and confidentially report their concerns or tips to law enforcement.
  • Mental health resources have been expanded through the Mental Health Trust Fund and The Tennessee Mental Health Crisis Hotline, available 24/7, 365 days a year: 855-274-7471.

Tennessee House Minority Leader Karen Camper (D-Memphis) issued a statement regarding the mass shootings in Chattanooga and Lee’s executive order:

“For the second time in two weeks, a mass shooting just down the road in Chattanooga has made victims of innocent people. People like our teenagers, our family members and our friends who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Add those victims to the ongoing list: 14 injured in Philadelphia, also this weekend, three dead…five people dead at a medical building in Tulsa…22 killed, including 19 children in Uvalde…in Buffalo, it was 10 killed and three others wounded at a supermarket…and the list goes on and on.

Today, Governor Lee issued an executive order focusing on school safety after the tragedy in Uvalde. But as the list of tragedies shows, we need to do more than turn our attention to locking down schools and adding armed guards as if they were mini-prisons. We need to have serious discussions on gun control and we have to put ideas on the table like an assault weapons ban, raising the purchasing age to 21 and expanding background checks.

During my career in the Army, I had the opportunity to see the best of our nation. We lived, worked and fought together. We knew that the flag on our shoulder united us and belonged to every one of us. We have sacrificed too much already throughout the history of our nation to regress. As elected officials we have to be leaders. We must lead the change. We have to stop this madness before it consumes us and destroys all for which our ancestors have worked and died.”

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