RUTHERFORD COUNTY, Tenn. (WKRN) — For the first time ever, parents were notified that there would be no school for students in the Rutherford County School District Monday while staff members worked to review safety procedures.
As the first county in the state to provide school resource officers, James Evans, Communications Director for Rutherford County Schools, said safety drills are a common practice, but the decision to close school Monday came amid uniquely tragic circumstances.
A week earlier, three children, all about 9 years old, and three staff members were gunned down at the Covenant School in Green Hills. Evans said the mass shooting happened while Rutherford County students were on spring break.
“This tragedy in Nashville happened last week when our schools were closed,” Evans said. “We wanted to give (teachers) a day just to make sure that they were sure about everybody’s rolls in these types of emergencies to prepare for students coming back tomorrow.”
The mass shooting has sparked debates across the state, with many schools taking a look at ways to enhance existing safety procedures. Tullahoma City Schools announced Sunday they are planning to add police officers to all of their buildings for the remainder of the school year.
Before debriefing the situation that occurred in Nashville, all Rutherford County school employees received a survey from Director of Schools Jimmy Sullivan asking them to share any concerns they may have with the school board.
Faculty at all levels also met with school resource officers to discuss law enforcement’s response in active shooter situations and review intruder drills, as well as other safety procedures in place.
Evans said there currently is an SRO in every school, among other safeguards. Rutherford County originally started with five SROs in 1993. But after the Sandy Hook School shootings, the number was increased to over 50.
“We have visitor screening so when people come in, they have to give their driver’s license,” Evans said. “Those are the types of things we already have in place. We don’t go into a lot of specifics because it’s sensitive information and it can be misused in the wrong hands.”
Still, Evans said making adjustments “should always be a part of any safety plan.” The Rutherford County School Board has called for an executive session next week to discuss any changes to school safety procedures.
“I think there are always things that will change, and those things change on the fly,” Evans said. “There’s always room for improvement. That’s why we have days like today. That’s why we have drills to reevaluate, but this is something that is always top of mind.”
Evans said it is still too early to know what those changes could be, but safety grants may help implement other practices being discussed at a state level.
Bullet proof glass has been discussed by some after the shooter in Nashville entered the building by shooting through the glass doors. However, at this time, Evans said Rutherford County has not yet decided whether to install bullet proof glass or security film.
Students will return to school on Tuesday, April 4. While the school district already held intruder drills in the fall and in March, Evans said they plan to involve students in more safety drills throughout the year.
Evans said those drills and days like Monday are “key” in preparing for the worst possible scenario.
“What happened in Nashville, it happened in a matter of minutes,” Evans said. “So, we wanted to make sure that everyone was prepared and had time to collect themselves, make sure they knew exactly what they were supposed to do, and knew how to respond to students when they return tomorrow. That’s why it’s so beneficial.”