Haslam, state officials hold school safety summit

Associated Press • Jan 29, 2013 at 9:25 AM

FRANKLIN, Tenn. — Gov. Bill Haslam told participants in a school safety summit on Tuesday that the state is committed to doing what it can to provide better security at Tennessee schools.

The event was organized to discuss current safety resources and practices as well as to hear from leading state and national experts on safety, law enforcement and mental health.

The Republican governor told officials from state agencies and representatives from school districts across the state that he hopes the summit will provide “practical things that we can do.”

“Our job is to listen and come up with a strategic plan,” Haslam said of state officials. “We’re committed to working alongside of you.”

During his State of the State address to lawmakers Monday night, Haslam proposed $34 million in his budget to address capital needs that can be used for increased security measures in the aftermath of last month’s massacre at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., where a gunman killed 20 children and 6 adults.

The governor is also proposing $51 million to help pay for technology transition upgrades in schools, which officials say are important in providing effective security.

“To hear the state say we are going to supply some money is a really big deal,” said Fred Carr, chief operating officer of Nashville Public Schools.

Since the Connecticut shootings, the discussion nationwide about improving school security has ranged from incorporating more resource officers to arming teachers.

Several Tennessee lawmakers have proposed such measures for the current legislative session.

Haslam told reporters after his talk Tuesday that he’s not in favor of arming teachers, but said he is more interested in better defining the “roles of school resource officers.”

Carr agreed that allowing teachers to carry guns is not a good idea.

“Arming teachers is a knee- jerk reaction,” he said. “That is not something I support.”

Locally, Sullivan County Sheriff Wayne Anderson and Sullivan County Director of Schools Jubal Yennie have said they oppose the school marshals concept.

However, the manager of a Piney Flats shooting range, Shooters Edge, has proposed to train willing school employees to carry firearms at school.

In Tennessee, school districts and local governments have already started to take or recommend more safety measures.

In the Tri-Cities, for instance, Unicoi County has placed school resource officers in all schools at least until the end of the spring semester, and Washington County leaders have discussed SROs in all schools.

School boards in Sullivan and Hawkins counties have expressed support for having SROs in every school building.

Sullivan County also has a school security task force looking at a range of school security issues.

Elsewhere in the state, Montgomery County officials announced that they would place armed off-duty police officers at elementary schools beginning this month.

State Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman said school districts currently have safety plans in place, but the benefit of Tuesday’s summit is that it allows school officials to come together and discuss the effectiveness of their plans, as well as get insight from law enforcement officials.

“It’s our job to work with local officials and make sure they have the best plans,” said David Purley, state assistant commissioner for homeland security.

Times-News Staff Writer Rick Wagner contributed to this report.

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