The Kingsport Times News in effect posed that question to the five people seeking three at-large seats on the Kingsport Board of Education. Below are the answers they gave to that fourth of five questions addressing education issues in the Model City. Their responses to the final question will be presented Tuesday.
Armed individuals in school buildings, including a man killed by police gunfire after coming inside Sullivan Central High School in 2010, have become a frequent topic in the media. A Tennessee program provides money for safety and the hiring of school resource officers.
What are your ideas for making Kingsport schools safer?
Julie Brinker Byers
This is really a tough question. We send out kids to school each day and expect them to return safely to us each afternoon. Unfortunately, there are sick people in the world who can disrupt that in a matter of minutes. Having the “atrium” areas where guests must check in and have an ID scanned is already a positive improvement over having people just openly walk into a school. I am in favor of scanning the ID’s so the school knows if an adult could be trying to take a child maliciously. I would like to see a female SRO at the high school. I know the bathrooms unfortunately have some unsavory behaviors and a female can walk into the girls bathroom anytime where a male cannot. I would rather not have to use metal detectors and x-rays for the students to enter the building especially since students change buildings during the day. Many do not like to go to school and then adding extra inconveniences might keep some away. I want our schools to be safe but I want our students to feel like they can move about without feeling like they are in lock down environment.
I was in the insurance world for 40 years. In those times I said you can’t insure everything. Likewise, you can’t prevent every possible situation that could occur in our schools. I feel that we do an admirable job in school safety. With 2 SRO’s at D-B and 1 at each middle school. In addition, we have 2 traveling SRO’s filled by retired police officers that work in and out of the elementary schools (with a third hoping to come on next school year). In addition, KPD does “drop ins” at each elementary school in their zones, This amounts to approximately 8,000 visits per year in their capacity. There is money being designated by the state in a new bill passed for SRO’s in each school. This comes with a matching grant of 25% by school systems taking this money. Also, $20 million of that funding is only for a one year period. If that is available to make structural changes for safer schools, I think we should explore that possibility.
Liv H. Detwiler
Governor Lee has proposed a several million dollar increase to the school safety grant fund, intended to ensure funding to have Student Resource Officers (SROs) present on all Tennessee school campuses. In Kingsport, we currently employ 4 SROs, 2 of which are at the high school, and the other 2 are spread thin between the 2 middle and 8 elementary schools. The KCS administration has actively advocated to hire more SROs, noting both the importance of their presence and the impact it has on our operating budget. The Governor’s grants will help to offset our district costs. For the high school, since we already have SROs in place, we can still apply for these state grants to help fund additional security technology and violence prevention programs. In the past, the district hosted round-table workshops with school leaders, police, emergency service workers, etc. to run drills and have conversations about safety. Community collaboration and interconnectedness are critical to building a great safety net. The district must also prioritize teaching and practicing tolerance and acceptance at all grade levels. Tackling topics such as pitfalls of social media, bullying, and conflict resolution lead to a healthier social and emotional environment for all (www.liv4kingsport.com).
There is not a parent in America who does not fear for the safety of their child. Events in this country’s history leave us longing for a solution to violence. We pray that none of these events will ever be had in our community. I share these same fears, my wife and I will have five children in the KCS system this fall. To that end, I understand the concerns all parents carry. I currently sit on the KCS Safety Board. We have evaluated the security of all our buildings and are working in conjunction with local architecture firms, construction companies, the Kingsport Police Department, the State of Tennessee and other top level security companies to address these safety and hardening measures. As much as I would like to address those specifically, the dissemination of such information could potentially jeopardize their effectiveness and give those who would want to cause harm, an understanding of how to circumvent countermeasures employed. To any parent concerned with this issue, I would be happy to speak with them on a one off basis.
I believe the Kingsport City Schools have done a commendable job in improving the safety of our schools. As a first step, I am hopeful that we are able to expand our School Resource Officer Program to all of our schools in the very near future. In my post-teaching career working in biosafety and biosecurity, I have spent the last several years helping evaluate the security of research and clinical laboratories for potentially hostile events. I am well aware that these efforts require expertise from multiple sectors, and I am committed to continuing efforts to make our schools safe and secure learning environments. None of us need reminded that it is a whole new world consisting of potential consequences where the mitigation of risks demands our vigilant attention in protecting our students and staff.