Sullivan County Board of Education eyes SROs for all schools

Rick Wagner • Jan 7, 2013 at 11:12 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — The Sullivan County Board of Education’s aim is to have a school resource officer assigned to all 20 school campuses in the county, not just the four high schools that have had SROs since 1997.

School security proposals have emerged nationwide in the aftermath of the Dec. 14 killing of 26 people — 20 students and six adults — at Sandy Hook Elementary School by an armed gunman, who earlier killed his mother and after the school killings killed himself before police could capture him.

Miller Perry Elementary parent Angela Stanley and Rock Springs Elementary parent Jennifer Fox during public comment urged the funding of SROs during Monday’s BOE meeting.

The cost would be roughly $1.3 million the first year, including start up, and about $884,000 each year thereafter, not accounting for inflation. The estimated annual cost for a similar system for 17 schools in neighboring Hawkins County is $725,000 a year.

“It could be more than that,” Sheriff Wayne Anderson said after the meeting.

Director of Schools Jubal Yennie during the meeting presented a statement that the BOE “would pursue additional funding and County Commission approval for school resource officers for all Sullivan County schools.”

Anderson and Yennie tried unsuccessfully to add more SROs after a 2010 incident in which a gunman at Central High School was intercepted by SRO Carolyn Gudger and eventually killed by deputies after refusing to put down his firearm.

Yennie said the SRO move is the next step in a series of safety improvements, while the parents said they believe Gudger’s actions likely saved lives at Central.

“They’re not going to be just a security guard. You want a trained professional,” Anderson said.

Almost completed are secure entrances with cameras and a buzzer system, which Yennie said will be at every school by the end of this week. Until SROs are in all schools, parent Stanley suggested requiring all visitors to show a photo ID.

Fox said school officials have no idea of a person’s intentions simply by looking at them.

“I don’t feel it should be the responsibility of the principal, the assistant principal or teachers to put themselves in the line of fire,” although she said many would.

In addition to the secure entrances, other safety features include updated emergency and disaster preparedness plans, every classroom having accessible and concise emergency placards, enhanced communications through a phone system providing timely information to parents about an incident, routine emergency drills and two-way radios at schools to communicate with central office and county emergency dispatch officers.

Anderson said he agrees with the BOE goal — first discussed during a Thursday BOE work session — but said he respectfully disagrees with the proposal by a Piney Flats shooting range owner to have school system employees be trained to become “school marshals” carrying weapons.

“I’m sure he’s got a good heart. Everybody has offered some kind of idea,” Anderson said of the owner of Shooters Edge. “But I personally don’t support the idea of school marshals.”

The owner of Shooters Edge in Piney Flats has said he plans to present the County Commission Jan. 22 a proposal to train school principals and other personnel to carry guns on campus.

Yennie said that a series of Expect More, Achieve More meetings set over the next four months in the four high school zones likely will address school safety.

The meetings are to form a focus group of 40 to 50 school teachers, parents, local business owners and the like to discuss the future of the school system.

Yennie said that will be part of the school safety dialogue the school system will seek with parents, community leaders, law enforcement and county elected officials.

Yennie said that the projected cost of providing SROs to 18 campuses plus the four existing high schools would be about $1.3 million the first year, with recurring costs of about $884,000 a year.

However, Yennie said the plan is not to provide officers at each of 22 schools, but to provide them on all 20 campuses.

Since some elementary and middle schools share a campus (Blountville Elementary and Middle and Holston Elementary and Middle), Yennie said the total number of SROs would be 20.

For more information on county school safety, go to www.sullivank12.net. To make comments, go to the “It’s Your School” blog on the Web site.

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