Getting $10M to improve safety, Middle TN schools continue working to upgrade security as new year school year begins

WSMV4 Investigates has learned that more than $10 million of that grant money has been earmarked for public schools in Middle Tennessee.
WSMV4 Investigates has learned that more than $10 million of that grant money has been earmarked for public schools in Middle Tennessee.
Published: Aug. 2, 2023 at 6:33 PM CDT
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WSMV) - Since the deadly Covenant School shooting in March, parents all over Middle Tennessee have expressed their concerns over school security at school board meetings and on social media.

Many parents suggested everything from adding school resource officers to arming teachers and running background checks on every person entering schools.

Tearicka Gordon, who lives in Nashville and has two children in elementary school, said she would like to see the physical security around school buildings hardened.

“I think installing metal detectors, or God forbid, you know, bulletproof windows. That type of security should be in every school,” she said.

In June, three months after the Covenant tragedy, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced new funding approved by the legislature that could make some of those upgrades happen.

“We can all play a part in keeping our schools safe,” Lee said in a video announcing the one-time $54 million security grant program designed to strengthen Tennessee schools. “We have a unique opportunity this year to invest in strengthening school security.”

The one-time funding, administered through the Tennessee Department of Education, sets aside $40 million for public schools and $14 million for private schools, which can be used to support a variety of school security efforts, including improved physical security.

WSMV4 Investigates has learned that more than $10 million of that grant money has been earmarked for public schools in Middle Tennessee. According to TDOE, six local school districts have been allocated the following amounts:

  • Davidson County- $2,625,359.64
  • Sumner County- $1,249,347.88
  • Rutherford County- $2,067,876.04
  • Wilson County- $828,965.59 Williamson County- $1,717,842.31
  • Clarksville-Montgomery County - $1,571, 263.68

But the timeline for spending that money is not as clear at this point, because several districts are still working through the grant application process and budgeting the anticipated security upgrades.

Once the state approves those plans, the districts can get to work on their projects, which depending on the complexity of the upgrade can take several weeks to an entire school year to complete.

“We know there are things we can improve on,” said Emily Bowers, a Health and Safety Specialist who helps oversee security at Clarksville-Montgomery County Schools. “It’s a very important task for us and we take it very seriously.”

Bowers gave WSMV4 Investigates a tour of one CMCS school, highlighting many of the security upgrades made throughout the districts in the past decade, and pointing out the time it took to complete the work.

She said one very important project, installing protective film on school windows and doors, can typically be completed in a month or two.

Simpler projects, like placing numbered stickers on every school door to help first responders better identify building entrances and exits in an emergency only took about a week, including the time it took to place the sticker order to then have school maintenance put them in place.

“There’s no detail too small when it comes to protecting our students and staff,” Bowers said. “We have to follow a process, from applying for grants and bidding projects, but in the end, we want every person, all of our students, all of our teachers and staff to feel safe when they walk through our doors.”

But bigger projects, like remodeling a building’s main entrance to include double magnetic locking doors, something all CMCS completed several years ago according to Bowers, can take up to a year to finish.

“Getting safety updates done as soon as possible is important, but getting it right is priority one,” said Bowers.

Gordon said she was a little surprised that the projects funded by the security grants won’t be complete by the time students go back this fall. And while she plans to send her kids back to school as opposed to homeschooling this year, Gordon says she does worry about tragedy striking her kids’ school.

“God forbid if something happens, you will have to live with the thought of regret just for sending them off to school.”