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Kingsport schools rank student safety as top concern

CHRISTAN M. THOMAS • Apr 18, 2007 at 12:21 PM

KINGSPORT - In the wake of Monday's Virginia Tech shooting - the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history - many parents wonder what local schools are doing to prevent this type of tragedy.

"Our primary concern is the safety and security of our students," said Barbara Moody, Kingsport City Schools compliance officer. "We want our schools to be safe havens, and we try to put forth every effort to accomplish that."

For daily security, some schools across the region have keyless entry systems and/or cameras installed at the front entry. Even without keyless entry systems, many schools limit access during the school day to one central door or set of doors near the main office. Several also choose to keep classroom doors locked throughout the day.

In the event of an emergency situation, Moody said there are two basic options for schools - lock down or evacuate. Both of those options are practiced regularly in schools, she said.

"What we tell everybody is one, to have a plan, and, two, to practice your plan," Moody said. "Three, if there's an emergency, follow your plan - don't deviate from it unless it's required."

Moody said the school uses various means of communications during an emergency situation, and parents can sign up for e-mails or text messages sent to them in the event of an emergency situation. She reminds, however, that cell phones should not be used in or around schools during an emergency, especially a bomb threat, because of the threat of remote detonation.

And Moody said each Kingsport school also has a "Quick Response" book, which is specifically tailored to that school and contains the policies and procedures that the school would follow in the event of an emergency.

In addition, schools work closely with local police and fire departments to participate in "tabletop" drills for various emergency situations.

The U.S. government encourages this type of emergency preparedness and offers tools to help schools via the Department of Education Web site: www.ed.gov/.

Following the Columbine High School shooting in 1999, the FBI and the U.S. Department of Education began studying school shootings as part of a project called the "Safe Schools Initiative." The report concluded that, in addition to response plans, the overall school environment is also important to the prevention of targeted school violence.

The report says, in part, "educators can play a part in prevention by creating an environment where students feel comfortable telling an adult whenever they hear about someone who is considering doing harm to another person, or even whether the person is considering harming themselves."

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