CHURCH HILL — Volunteer High School went on “lockdown” status one day last September for what turned out to be a false alarm of a student on campus with a gun.
But that incident opened the eyes of many educators and law enforcement personnel to the potential for a real incident occurring in the future. It showed that Hawkins County is not immune to the threat of school violence.
That’s what prompted Hawkins County educators and local law enforcement personnel to get together last week in Church Hill for 40 hours of training on school safety. The class composition was about half educators and half Church Hill police officers.
The fact that another school massacre occurred last week at Northern Illinois University while this class was in session was not lost on the class. This class, which concluded Friday afternoon, is only the first of what will likely be many classes to come.
School safety instructor Tom Frayer from Walters State Community College told the class Friday he hopes participants will have learned some of the warning signs of troubled students who commit acts of school violence. But they’ve also discussed several ideas for improving the plan of action between the school personnel and police if a lockdown event happens again in a Hawkins County school.
“We were under the assumption as teachers that we could do certain things, or that law enforcement could do certain things, and we found that they’re as limited as you are as teachers,” Frayer said. “We found that to overcome these limitations we need to work together and know each other. That’s what this class really did.
“Certainly we learned a lot of information, we spent 40 hours covering a lot of subjects, but the most beneficial part of this thing is we learned each other and gained a different perspective.”
Charles Johnson, assistant principal at the Pathways Alternative School in Hawkins County, said the class will help him take a proactive approach to school safety, as opposed to reactive.
Johnson added that the district is focused on early prevention and addressing student problems before they escalate, beginning with intervention in elementary school. He said that means paying attention to red flags that pop up early and alert educators that something might be wrong with a student.
But the class also helped teachers and police focus on improving their preparedness for when something does go wrong in a school.
“Unfortunately things are going to happen and we need to be in a position to have a plan,” Johnson said. “We’ve talked about everything this week from dress codes to child abuse, so it was a pretty good range of topics.
“Being able to sit down and talk with a deputy, a police officer, a police chief lets us know what goes on in the county, and they have learned as much from us as we’ve learned from them.”
Church Hill Police Department Assistant Chief Roddy Miller said he anticipates more school safety classes of this nature teaming educators with police in the future.
After completing the class Miller said one thing he would like to see his department and educators do differently should another lockdown or similar crisis take place is to better deal with parents and other concerned family members.
“During the lockdown last year we had a lot of parents on campus who were very concerned, and it took quite a bit of manpower to keep that crowd contained — manpower that should have been out looking for the suspect,” Miller said. “What some parents didn’t understand was the the children were much safer inside the school, and it was actually us police and parents outside the school who were in more danger because we were outside where the supposed gunman was. Hopefully something like this won’t happen again, but if it does we’re going to have a better plan in place for keeping parents informed, but also out of the way so we’re not expending too many resources for crowd control.”