State officials are hoping to devise a “strategic plan” to better ensure schools are safe, although Gov. Bill Haslam said arming teachers in the classroom probably won’t make the cut.
In reaction to an elementary school shooting in Connecticut that startled the nation, state lawmakers have begun pitching ideas that would require some school personnel to be better armed, such as by plugging in more school resource officers to guard buildings, and allowing teachers or administrators to carry guns on school grounds.
Instead, the governor said he’d rather start with setting aside $34 million for local officials to spend on beefing up school security or address other capital needs as they choose.
“I don’t think the answer is necessarily for us to rush in and say, ‘We’re going to put SROs everywhere.’ The truth is a lot of districts have them now and so, are we going to do it for the ones that don’t, and how’s that fair to some of the ones that are already paying for it,” Haslam told reporters Tuesday after speaking at a school safety summit, co-hosted by the state Department of Education, Williamson County Schools and the Franklin Special School District.
“Ultimately, even if we have an armed SRO or an armed administrator, that’s one person in one place, right? And they’re not going to be able to protect everything,” Haslam added.
Hundreds of education, law and mental health officials gathered in Franklin for the summit in the wake of December’s shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School that killed 26 people, mostly students.
The event has shaken up the education community and gotten local education officials thinking about how to strengthen and refine their own emergency and safety plans. In Nashville, school officials have received the green light to begin spending $5.5 million to fast track security improvements. The school district is home to some 200 school safety officers but has no armed officers in its 75 elementary schools, according to officials.
Haslam said every local school district should have its own plan, but the state is looking for guidance on whether there are best practices that should be required for all districts.
But the governor said he’s worried whether arming teachers and administrators would make it more difficult for police officers responding to emergencies to figure out who is “the bad guy” when there are multiple people with weapons, and said teachers have enough to do trying to herd their students to safety in the event of an emergency.
“In terms of being something that would arm teachers, I just personally don’t see the effectiveness of that,” said Haslam.
Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman said the most important thing he wants officials to walk away from the summit with is a sense of urgency to review their safety plans and make sure they are implementing all the pieces of their plans, like performing drills.
“Ultimately, this is locally driven,” said Huffman. “Oversight has to be driven at the local level. But I actually would say that most school districts feel pretty good about their plans, and we’re trying to move from feeling pretty good to really good about their plans.”