Gov. Lee, legislators propose improving security at schools

“There is nothing more important than our students safely returning home each day,” Lee said during a press conference on Monday.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee and legislative leaders are expected to make an announcement at a press...
Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee and legislative leaders are expected to make an announcement at a press conference on Monday afternoon.(WSMV)
Published: Apr. 3, 2023 at 12:28 PM CDT|Updated: Apr. 4, 2023 at 9:32 AM CDT
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WSMV) - Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, House Speaker Cameron Sexton, and the legislative leadership announced additional actions to strengthen safety at public and private schools across Tennessee.

These measures include enhanced legislation and funding to place an armed security guard at every Tennessee public school, boost physical school security at public and private schools, and provide additional mental health resources for Tennesseans.

“There is nothing more important than our students safely returning home each day,” Lee said. “As Tennessee grieves the tragic loss of six precious lives in the Covenant shooting, we are taking additional actions to significantly boost safety measures at every school with highly trained guards, physical security enhancements and mental health resources. I thank Lieutenant Governor McNally, Speaker Sexton, and members of the General Assembly for their partnership as we pursue thoughtful, practical solutions to protect Tennessee students and teachers.”

At the beginning of the 2023 legislative session, Lee introduced a bill to strengthen physical security at every public school and enhance accountability in school safety protocol. Additionally, the Governor’s initial budget proposal included $30 million for 122 Homeland Security agents to serve students at both public and private schools in every Tennessee county. These school safety measures were highlighted in the Governor’s 2023 State of the State address in February.

Following the tragic Covenant shooting that took the lives of six Tennesseans, including three children, Gov. Lee and members of the Tennessee General Assembly coalesced around further action steps to strengthen school safety.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee announces steps to reduce school violence.

The Governor’s amended legislation and budget proposal will include the following measures:

Enhanced School Safety Legislation (HB322/SB274)

  • Enacts a multi-tiered accountability plan to ensure exterior school doors are locked while students are present, with opportunities for corrective action. State and local law enforcement will be authorized to check for unlocked doors
  • Requires that private security guards are held to a high standard and receive active shooter training prior to being posted at Tennessee schools
  • Requires every school district to establish threat assessment teams, a nationally recognized best practice to ensure students are connected to support services and behavioral health professionals, when appropriate
  • Requires every public and private school to develop annual safety plans, which must include a newly required incident command drill for school leaders and law enforcement to prepare for what to expect in various emergencies

FY23-24 Budget Proposal:

  • $30 million to expand a statewide homeland security network with 122 agents serving students at both public and private schools
  • $140 million to establish a School Resource Officer (SRO) grant fund to place a trained, armed security guard at every public school
  • $20 million for public school security upgrades
  • $7 million for private school security upgrades
  • $8 million for additional school-based behavioral health liaisons across the state

According to the governor’s office, since 2019, Lee and the Tennessee General Assembly have prioritized investments in school safety every year. In June 2021, the Governor signed Executive Order 97 and launched a statewide effort to enhance school safety by boosting collaboration among parents, schools and local law enforcement across the state.

Rep. John Ray Clemmons, House Democratic Caucus Chairman, criticized the governor’s proposal in a statement released after the press conference.

“It’s been a whole week since The Covenant School shooting, and Bill Lee has yet to utter the word ‘gun.’ This fact evidences a political cowardice that plagues our Capitol and threatens every community.

“The need to put an armed security guard in every school is a result of the real problem. It is not a solution to the problem.

“I am appalled that Governor Lee would rather militarize our schools and make our children feel imprisoned in their own learning environment than reach across the aisle to pass common sense gun safety legislation.

“We, as Democrats, remain committed to pushing legislation such as ‘red flag laws’ and to encourage responsible gun ownership, and we hope our Republican legislative colleagues will work with us on these efforts. Hopefully, they will demonstrate the courage that is so sorely lacking in the governor’s office.”