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Statewide school safety summit convenes in Williamson County

Nearly 400 educators representing 120 Tennessee school districts, emergency management experts and mental health professionals gathered in Williamson County Jan. 29 to discuss school safety. The Tennessee Department of Education organized the meeting in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., shooting that killed 20 children, 7 years old or younger, and six adults.

“What are we going to do to make sure this doesn’t happen again?” asked Gov. Bill Haslam, who spoke from the dais to open the session. “What can we stop? What can we do differently?”

These questions were expected to comprise the core of discussion scheduled to take place during the remainder of the day at Liberty Hall at The Factory at Franklin. The event, beyond the opening remarks, was closed to the public and media. Organizers said discussions on school and district safety plans are “by law confidential.”

“The conversation is about providing a safe environment,” Haslam said. “What can we do to make a difference? That is the purpose of today.”

Williamson County Mayor Rogers Anderson coordinated a school safety dialogue with law enforcement and elected officials from the county’s six cities, and the Williamson County Schools and the Franklin Special School District in the immediate aftermath of the Dec. 14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. They agreed to fund a security analysis of the public schools within the county, and to seek funds from the Williamson County Commission to hire 32 school resource officers. The County Commission voted 23-1 on Jan. 14 to approve $2.58 million to install 32 armed school resource officers in the county's 23 elementary schools and those of the Franklin Special School District, and Middle College High School for the remainder of the fiscal year.

“There is no single important chore than our children,” said Rogers Anderson, Williamson County mayor.

Franklin Mayor Dr. Ken Moore described the impetus for the safety summit in stark terms.

“Franklin [Tenn.] and Newtown, Conn., are similar cities,” he said. “What happened there could happen anywhere.”

After his remarks to conference attendees, Haslam said the issue of mental health must be a part of all conversations about school safety.

“It’s not an ‘or’ question, it’s an ‘and’ question,” he said

Williamson County School Superintendent Mike Looney said he is pleased with the progress of the school safety audit being conducted by Safe Havens International, which began Jan. 28.

“In the first 24 hours, we have already learned a lot,” Looney said. “We’ve learned about some vulnerabilities, as well as things that we’re doing really, really well.”

Looney said that Safe Havens’ audit of the county’s schools will be complete by next week, after which its safety experts will audit the schools of the Franklin Special School District. Looney expects the report and recommendations stemming from the audit of the WCS to be ready about 45 days after its completion. The audit for the Williamson County Schools will cost $40,000.

Posted on: 1/29/2013


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