NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — School Resource Officers will be missing from several schools in Middle Tennessee when class begins. Some positions are open due to staffing shortages, while others are missing by design.
“Making sure that our elementary schools are given the same resources as the middle and high school, if something happens to our children there is going to be consequences,” said Fran Bush, Metro Nashville School Board Member for District 6.
Adding SROs has been a heated topic of discussion during recent Metro Nashville Public School board meetings.
Safety isn’t a one-size fits all approach in Middle Tennessee, and the director of MNPS believe it shouldn’t be.
“We want to make informed decisions around what’s best for our students in our community,” said Dr. Adrienne Battle, MNPS Director.
News 2 reached out to several counties asking for a head count of SROs. At least one is allocated for every school system that we asked.
However, Williamson County is short ten SROs due to staffing shortages which leaves five schools in the district without a full-time SRO. The Williamson County Sheriff’s Department plans to rotate deputies through those schools, while also actively recruiting.
In Davidson County, the district has 59 SROs staffed by Metro Police. They’re assigned to middle and high schools but not elementary schools. That’s by design.
“It’s important, as we’re thinking about our elementary school learners, that we don’t criminalize childhood behaviors, so we’re very cognizant of that,” said Dr. Battle.
Dr. Battle didn’t cite a specific study, but News 2 found several nationwide studies that support her concerns about having armed officers on campuses and how that could lead to over-policing of youth of color leading to disadvantages for their future.
“The truth of the matter is when we’re talking about disproportionality, we’ve seen an amount of exclusionary practices being issued to our Black and Brown students. That’s data that we’re paying attention to, and that’s something that we continue to tackle right here in Metro Nashville Public Schools,” she said.
Dr. Battle and Metro Police Chief John Drake are discussing alternatives.
“We’re working on a plan now to cover the elementary schools,” said Chief Drake.
They’re doing that by way of support positions, not sworn officers, who will focus on proactive safety.
“Trained adults and leaders who are present on our school campuses to make sure that we are pressure testing our safety and security measures on a daily basis to level up that level of safety in our elementary schools,” said Dr. Battle.
Those staff members would not be armed.
“More details will be shared in the days and weeks to come, but we are looking at unarmed, uniformed leaders who can build those strong relationships with our students,” she added.
And to parents, Dr. Battle said this to assure them the districts safety plan will keep their kids safe.
“We’ve learned early on, and we’ve known this for years, we have some of the best practices in place so doubling down on those and adding those additional layers as needed to make sure our students and staff are protected.”
Meanwhile, the city gave MNPD $4 million in one-time security funding for school safety.
That money has been put to use this summer by installing security vestibules, enhancing security systems, and additional active shooter training for staff.
Plus, locks have been installed in all classrooms, and teachers will be instructed to teach behind locked doors.