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June 29, 2022

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Gov. Lee Issues Executive Order to Enhance School Safety

The order comes two weeks after an 18-year-old legally purchased an AR-15-style rifle and opened fire on a classroom in Uvalde, Texas.

Gov. Bill Lee signed an executive order Monday directing Tennessee schools and law enforcement to double down on existing school safety protocols in the wake of a shooting that killed 19 children and two teachers at a Texas elementary school.

But the governor said restricting access to guns — such as implementing universal background checks or banning assault rifles — is off the table. Instead, Lee called for continuing the state’s “prioritized practical approach to school safety” and has no intention of repealing a bill he signed last year that allows most Tennessee adults to carry a handgun without a permit.

On Monday, June 6, Lee signed an executive order directing accountability measures for school safety and an evaluation of training for Tennessee law enforcement. The order also establishes 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.”

Governor Lee will sign Executive Order 97 to enhance school safety across Tennessee and promote engagement with parents, schools and law enforcement.

What does the order do for Parents?

Creates a School Safety Resources and Engagement Guide to provide parents with information regarding how to effectively engage and advocate for safe conditions at their child’s school, including how to report suspicious or concerning activity through the SafeTN App, access mental health resources for their child and inquire about building security and compliance at their child’s school.

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. 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 have the ability to vastly increase the security of their local school.

What does the order do for Schools?

Directs Tennessee state agencies to provide additional guidance to help local school districts (LEAs) implement existing school safety law, which requires that each public school conduct an annual school security assessment and submit a plan to the Tennessee school safety center. This guidance will include:

  • 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 assessment;
  • A set of best practices for school leaders to enhance building security and safety against an unauthorized intruder
  • Information for district and local government leadership regarding financial resources for school safety available through state programs and the Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement Act (TISA).

Updates the state School Safety Plan Template for LEAs to be published no later than July 1, 2022 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 initiatives and how such expenditures mitigate the identified deficiencies;
  • Designation of the district’s single point of contact for school safety matters.

Ensures LEAs receive guidance from the State Fire Marshal’s Office and other state agencies regarding how to appropriately improve school building security, while maintaining emergency egress and safeguarding of life and property from the hazards of fire and explosion.

Directs the Department of Education to request permission from the federal government for districts to use existing federal ESSER funds to conduct a fulsome, independent safety assessment, including the identification of necessary facility upgrades. The Department will report to the Governor on which districts utilize that flexibility, if approved.

Directs the Department of Education 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.

Develops additional training and educational materials regarding school safety for educators, school leaders and staff, no later than August 1, 2022.

What does the order do for Law Enforcement?

Directs the Department of Commerce & Insurance, through TLETA, to evaluate and assess law enforcement training standards and recommend expansions, improvements, or enhancements to existing training for active-shooter scenarios, and provide a report to the Governor, no later than July 1, 2022, with recommendations to expand its availability to local law enforcement agencies and related education stakeholders.

Directs the Department of Commerce & Insurance to review the use of armed security guards in non-public schools and, with the Department of Safety & Homeland Security, report to the Governor regarding the need for active-shooter training for armed guards.

Calls 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

For more than three years, the Lee administration has prioritized school safety, with efforts focused on mental health resources, confidential reporting and securing school buildings.

  • In 2019, the Governor established a School Resource Officer (SRO) Grant program placing 213 new SRO’s 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 easily 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, which is available 24/7, 365 days a year: 855-274-7471.

 

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About the Author

Michael Aldrich

Michael Aldrich is Nashville Parent's Managing and Entertainment Editor and a Middle Tennessee arts writer. He and his wife, Alison, are the proud parents of 3-year-old Ezra.