NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – For months, there have been debates inside Metro Nashville Public Schools, all focused on keeping students safe. With the start of a new semester quickly approaching, the district is looking at new tools to use, as Metro police struggle to fully staff school resource officers (SROs).
“Here in Metro Nashville Public Schools, when we think about safety, we think about it in every form,” said Director of Schools Dr. Adrienne Battle. “We’re thinking about our students’ psychological safety, their intellectual safety, emotionally and, of course, their physical safety. So, currently, as a district, when we think about safety, we’re planning as proactively as possible for our students and our staff. Safety is key as a priority to everything that we do, because our goal is to educate all of our students to the best of our ability and to make sure that we’re not only given them what they need, but what they deserve to be active learners and to be the best versions of themselves.”
Across Davidson County, hundreds of residents watched the aftermath of The Covenant School shooting unfold. In March, the Green Hills area school was attacked after an intruder shot through the front door and would go on to kill three children and three staff members.
That dark day would go on to shine a bright light on how schools are keeping students and staff safe.
News 2 sat down with Dr. Battle, in one of her first one-on-one interviews after the Covenant School shooting. When asked if the shooting sparked a change in how the district approaches safety. She responded by stating in her opinion, the shooting did not necessarily cause a “shift in their approach.”
“With our key partners, we’ve been working towards providing the safest learning environments possible for our students for years, and so I think the tragic incident that took place back in March, not only just kind of heightened the conversation, because it was here. I mean, in our backyard, and our hearts still go out to the covenant community, but it has continued to accelerate the conversation, heighten the level and depth of the conversation of what we mean by safety for our students in our staff,” she said.
For years, SROs have operated in MNPS high schools and middle schools. MNPD and MNPS have had a seemingly positive and working relationship in order to protect students.
However, concerns from Board members and parents rose after The Covenant School shooting, specifically wanting to know how elementary students would be protected.
While each high and middle school in the district has been equipped with dedicated SROs, many called on the district to implement the same inside elementary schools. In the early stages, the district showed hesitancy in adding the additional level of security, even after Gov. Bill Lee announced a new budget, that would give $140 million for one full-time SRO for every public school.
News 2 asked Dr. Battle if elementary schools would have SROs in the building when they start back in August.
“So for our elementary schools, as we kick off this upcoming school year, we’ll continue with our same coverage that we had last school year,” Dr. Battle said. “Last school year was the first year that we did have MNPD officers covering our elementary schools, they do so from kind of an exterior approach to our school buildings, making sure that doors are locked, and we’re securing our school communities. So we will continue that effort through our partnership with MNPD, and we’re also onboarding Safety Ambassadors for our elementary schools to have that two-prong approach for both the interior and exterior supports needed for our elementary schools.”
However, even in what would be a perfect world for some parents who would like to see SROs inside elementary schools, MNPD Chief John Drake explained how it would not be possible at this point.
In July, Drake held a press conference and detailed the department’s plans to secure schools. When asked to address elementary schools he explained staffing problems have led to them having to prioritize needs throughout the city.
“We have 530 square miles in Davidson County. And with the level of our staffing, we can’t pull 70 officers away from the streets of Nashville, keeping our communities safe, and put them in schools at this time,” said Drake.
Dr. Battle went on to explain those are not all the new measures set to take effect come the first day of school. During the summer months, Board members have passed several other tools.
“We’re leveraging both state and local funds to implement shatter-resistant film. In our schools, we’re continuing to add security cameras, we are improving the ability for our SROs and other MNPD officers that are working in and around our schools to have access to be able to communicate, well. We’re instituting a new software that helps with weapon detection,” she detailed.
One of the biggest misconceptions Dr. Battle believes the public has is centered around believing the district has recently made school safety a property. Instead, she reiterated the district has always put the safety of students first.