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New task force to look at safety in Kingsport City Schools

Rick Wagner • Updated Mar 8, 2018 at 8:35 AM

KINGSPORT — Kingsport City Schools is forming a School Safety Task Force to communicate to the public safety measures in place as well as to seek out possible safety and security improvements, Superintendent Jeff Moorhouse has announced.

Moorhouse, speaking to the Board of Education at the end of its regular meeting Tuesday, said since the Florida high school shooting that left 17 dead last month, he’s seen a stream of tweets and other social media posts about school safety locally and nationwide as well as questions from parents and others in the community via various means.

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn. and former governor, is among federal lawmakers who are sponsoring federal school safety improvement legislation. (Click on the link for a video.)

WHO’S HEADING UP THE EFFORT? 

Moorhouse said Chief Student Services Officer Jim Nash and Assistant Superintendent of Administration Andy True, who oversees district communications, are helping put together the task force of stakeholders in the school system and community. He said the group will review procedures and practices in crisis management. In addition, he said he’s been talking with school counselors about what role they have after a crisis.

The task force also will communicate to students’ families what the school system does for safety, things including having secured school entrances with magnetic locks; requiring driver’s license scans to check for a criminal background when adults enter schools; providing Dobyns-Bennett High School students magnetic cards to gain access after the school day begins; having two school resource officers assigned to D-B and one each to Sevier and Robinson middle schools; having other officers conduct walk-throughs at all schools; and using a parental notification system involving phones and emails in the event of a crisis.

“Right now, people just want to know you’re looking at it,” Moorhouse said.

The local and national conversation started shortly after Valentine’s Day, when a former student who had been expelled from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., entered the building and opened fire. He later admitted his guilt to police, according to national media reports. 

SAFETY IS NO. 1 PRIORITY, BOE MEMBER SAYS

“We are committed as a system,” BOE member Todd Golden said, adding that students, parents and the community at large need to know that the safety and security of KCS students is of the utmost importance to the school board and school system officials. He said not to believe everything you may see, read or hear about school safety or the lack of it in city schools, especially on social media.

“We ask that you please reach out appropriately,” Golden said of people with concerns about safety issues, and don’t do things that disrupt the learning environment “for other children.”

WHAT ABOUT WALK-OUTS, SIT-INS AND SOCIAL MEDIA?

A group of more than 20 D-B students walked out of school Feb. 20 as a protest, despite a warning not to do so by Principal Chris Hampton. A group walk-out planned at Volunteer High School was called off after fears of punishment, according to students there.

Around the same time, Sullivan South High students did not stage a walkout but gathered in “the Pit” at the school in a sit-in of sorts, as a remembrance of the slain students and to show their concern about safety, county BOE member Mark Ireson of Colonial Heights said. Sullivan County Director of Schools Evelyn Rafalowski recently said students have been offered emails, phone numbers and mailing addresses for lawmakers to express their concerns constructively.

After the Tuesday Kingsport BOE meeting, however, Golden said his comment was not meant to focus on students but referred mostly to parents posting things that can spread like wildfire on social media. An innocent comment made by one student to another that it would be terrible if a shooting happened at Gate City High School, later repeated by a parent on Facebook, had police swarming to interview students at that school and Gate City Middle to see if there was a real threat, which investigators determined didn’t exist.

In addition, two Sullivan North High students recently were charged with felony false reporting after allegedly hijacking a classmate’s Facebook account and threatening to “shoot up” the school.

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