State lawmakers took cue from Gov. Haslam’s school security group

Back to School

In the days after the Parkland, Florida, mass school shooting, the words from Tennessee lawmakers of both parties foreshadowed that some kind of legislation was coming.  

“It is not enough to do nothing,” said House Democrat Caucus Chair Mike Stewart.  

“I think what we have here is not a gun problem, but a heart problem,” said House Republican Leader Glen Casada. 

As Democrats considered things like banning rapid-fire gun mechanisms and Republicans mulled over a shooter’s heart and mind issues, Governor Bill Haslam soon pulled together a school security task for an overall review of classrooms across the state. 

“The task force I am putting together will be folks from the legislature, some mental health professionals, some law enforcement and some education people,” said the governor. 

The task force had some urgency to write recommendations lawmakers could pass before they ended their session, but the overall security review of Tennessee’s 1,800 public schools it called for was key. 

“Part of what we were trying to do was build a comprehensive assessment program so that schools can actually determine their own risk and vulnerabilities,” said Brice Allen, who actually ended up writing the eventual task force report as a top official with the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security. 

The report led to a 30-million-dollar bill passed by state lawmakers aimed at keeping student safer. 

Allen’s role became he is also the guy overseeing the training of homeland security trainers who instructed local first responders to conduct the review of Tennessee schools. 

“Part of the train the trainers’ program was giving the agents and troopers from my agency the ability to go to the schools and help the schools and local law enforcement put together their own assessment program,” added Allen. 

The top homeland security official spoke of key elements that will be different for Tennessee schools this year. 

“They are going to have a much more broad scope of how they deal with all emergencies,” said Allen, who added that schools can often face weather emergencies. “The structure is going to be a lot more secure because we have talked to them about limited entrances and exits as well as having proper lighting so that during different periods of the day they can see what is going on.” 

The money for school security will be administered by the Tennessee Department of Education, which will issue grants to individual school districts for their own local needs.

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