For parents, safety is the top priority
Putnam County – Across Tennessee, hearts shattered when word spread that Audrey Elizabeth Hale, a mentally ill, transgender shooter stormed christian elementary school The Covenant School on March 26 and murdered three children and three adults. Although not necessarily editorial, I hope that you hear a voice within this story that speaks for those who are passionately concerned for student safety and the protection of those who rely on us most.
The Upper Cumberland Business Journal caught up with Putnam County Director of Schools Corby King and asked about school security, the idea of armed teachers in classrooms and added student resource officers throughout the system. For parents, safety is the top priority. School should be a safe haven, and King says he understands the concern.
Corby King, Putnam County Director of Schools
Has there been any movement on further SRO funding, guards or other preventative measures in the Putnam County School System?
“PCSS continually monitors and adjusts school safety plans throughout the year,” said King. “Every school in Putnam County has a SERT (School Emergency Response Team) that an SRO and the building principal lead. The SERT teams take an all-hazards approach to school safety planning and work closely with local emergency responders to maintain and update plans as needed. SROs, administrators, faculty and staff members make up the SERT teams at all schools.”
As for more funding for SROs?
“Governor Lee announced legislation this week to add $130 million to state funding to place an SRO in every school in TN,” said King. “In Putnam County, we are fortunate that our local county commission and Sheriff worked with the school board to provide an SRO in every school a few years ago. That is a huge step in providing security for our schools. We believe having an SRO in every school is the best resource for preventing and responding to potential threats,” said King.
Security funding, like all funding for schools, comes from a combination of state and local sources. Is the PCSS willing to flip the bill for more security measures?
King said the budget for schools and the Sheriff’s department would need to increase.
“The school system receives yearly funding from the state via safety grants to bolster the physical security of our schools,” said King. “For the past three years, we have also received funding via a state SRO grant that partially funds five of our PCSS SROs. The remaining funds for SROs come from the Sheriff’s Department budget. Regardless of whether the funds are in the sheriff’s or the school’s budgets, it is the same pool of local taxpayers’ funding. To increase the number of SROs we currently have, the sheriff’s or the school system’s budget would need to be increased.”
The idea of local business leaders coming together to campaign and fund added security, SROs at every door, bulletproof glass or any other measures needed to prevent tragedy is valid. One way to increase funding for school safety would be for PCSS to match any raised funds.
King said there is already something in place.
“The Putnam Education Partnership (PEP) Foundation has a school safety fund established where we can request special projects,” he said. “Local businesses and individuals can donate to that fund.”
The use of the funds from the PEP Foundation is determined by the SERT Admin Committee (SAC), a subcommittee of the LEPC (Local Emergency Planning Committee.)
“The SAC comprises school administrators, SROs, supervisors from local municipal police departments, fire, EMA, EMS and 911,” said King.
The SAC meets monthly to review school safety plans, prioritize safety needs, assist with safety drills and make recommendations to school administrators. Would the school system be willing to match any funds raised by a grassroots campaign to fund added security?
“School system funding comes from state and local revenues. The funds would need to be provided by the county commission or the state to provide any matching funding,” said King.
According to King, the school board decides how to spend the money once the county commission provides funding. If the school board and county commission agreed to match any local donations to the school, it would be within their reach to do so.
King says our schools are safe, and if the worst were to happen, “Safety is ever-present in the minds of our administrators.”
“Our entire PCSS Team, from the district office to our newest employees, focuses on safety as a top priority in every classroom and space within our schools,” said King. “Safety is ever-present in the minds of our administrators, faculty and staff members. Our school safety teams review plans and hold practice drills regularly. Our administrators and SROs conduct annual site assessments of our schools to identify potential weaknesses and recommend improvement areas. As we receive funds, we work with the SERT Admin committee to disburse the funds based on the highest identified priorities.”
A single SRO in a school is a first step, but we can do more. Governor Bill Lee recently proposed the idea of armed teachers in the classroom. King said mental health evaluation, hardening of buildings and public awareness should be the first steps.
Armed teachers should be a last resort, according to the director.
“I prefer we take steps to harden our buildings to potential threats, identify and refer individuals to appropriate mental health counseling, and encourage students and the community to report potential threats to school administrators, SROs or local law enforcement officials,” said King. “If law enforcement officials deem more armed security necessary, I would prefer we receive funding to hire additional SROs before we arm teachers.”
If the governor’s measure passes a “rigorous annual training program” must be followed, according to King.
“If this measure moves forward, it must be accompanied by a rigorous annual training program,” said King. “Assurance that the Director of Schools, building administrators and local law enforcement officials are a part of identifying and certifying anyone approved to carry a weapon on campus is essential to this process.”
Money, funding and politics often lead the conversation about school safety. Where do we go from here? More discussions on funding? Commissions passing budget extensions? Whether you have children in school or not, the responsibility of civilized society is to protect the most vulnerable.
King says the PCSS is taking every step to living up to that responsibility.
“I have two children in the Putnam County School System, and my wife is a teacher in our school system,” said King. “Like all parents, I have a vested interest in the safety and security of our school buildings. We have a great relationship with Sheriff Farris and the municipal police chiefs in Cookeville, Algood, Baxter and Monterey, who share our desire and interest in maintaining a safe environment for our children, faculty and staff members.”
Image by tirachard on Freepik.