NASHVILLE - Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced his approval of recommendations submitted by the school safety working group he appointed earlier this month to make immediate enhancements to school safety. 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); and
3. A statewide technology application for anonymous reporting of security threats.
Haslam has directed the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security (TN DOS), in conjunction with the Tennessee Department of Education (TN DOE) 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 TN DOS, 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, Haslam has asked the state agencies to ensure completion of 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 (EOP) must ensure specific facility risks are identified and updated and that state school safety resources, including the additional $30 million proposed in the governor's Fiscal Year 2019 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 or SROs. For the schools in the state that do not have SROs on-site, lack of funding is often cited as a primary reason. The governor's proposed 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.
"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. "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 third immediate priority of the working group, also adopted by Haslam, is for the state to provide a statewide technology application for the anonymous reporting of threats or suspicious activity by students, faculty, staff and others. The concept, which Haslam is also pushing for a 2018-19 school year implementation, 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. Haslam has directed the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services to work in conjunction with the TN DOE 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.
The General Assembly will consider Haslam's school safety budget proposal over the next few weeks.