State prepares to spend new COVID aid

Gov. Bill Lee signed an executive order on Monday that he says will enhance school safety.

The action follows last month’s school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, which left 19 children and two teachers dead, as well as a shooting at a graduation ceremony in Murfreesboro that left one dead and another injured.

“This order strengthens accountability and transparency around existing school safety planning and assures Tennessee parents that our efforts to protect students and teachers will continue,” Lee said in a press release.

But the order doesn’t address gun laws. 

“We are not talking in our administration about gun laws, gun registries,” said Lee during a press conference Monday. “We're working on school safety and what's been laid out in this plan today. So there are no conversations or discussions about that.”

Lee’s administration has, however, loosened gun laws. Last year, the governor worked to pass a law eliminating handgun permit requirements — he signed the bill into law one year ago this week.

In the release, Lee lays out the points of his new executive order, which he says will “enhance school safety across Tennessee and promote engagement with parents, schools and law enforcement.” They are as follows:

For Parents

  • Creates a School Safety Resources and Engagement Guide to provide parents with information regarding how to effectively engage and advocate for safe conditions at their child’s school, including how to report suspicious or concerning activity through the SafeTN App, access mental health resources for their child and inquire about building security and compliance at their child’s school.

  • Encourages parents, families and the local community to engage in school safety and partner with law enforcement to promote the habits and practices that help ensure school building security against unauthorized intruders. By implementing simple practices, such as ensuring a single point of entry and multiple points of exit, securing vestibules and other access points, and reporting suspicious activity, communities have the ability to vastly increase the security of their local school.

 

For Schools

  • Directs Tennessee state agencies to provide additional guidance to help local school districts (LEAs) implement existing school safety law, which requires that each public school conduct an annual school security assessment and submit a school safety plan to the Tennessee school safety center. This guidance will include:

    • An increase in periodic audits of Tennessee local school security assessments and school safety plans, including but not limited to random in-person verification by state officials of a school’s implementation of the approved assessment;

    • A set of best practices for school leaders to enhance building security and safety against an unauthorized intruder; and

    • Information for district and local government leadership regarding financial resources for school safety available through state programs and the Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement Act (TISA). 

  • Updates the state School Safety Plan Template for LEAs to be published no later than July 1, 2022 and include greater detail on:

    • A description of deficiencies identified by the LEA when conducting the school security assessment;

    • A description of district spending on building security and other school safety initiatives and how such expenditures mitigate the identified deficiencies; and

    • Designation of the district’s single point of contact for school safety matters.

  • Ensures LEAs receive guidance from the State Fire Marshal’s Office and other state agencies regarding how to appropriately improve school building security, while maintaining emergency egress and safeguarding of life and property from the hazards of fire and explosion.

  • Directs the Department of Education to request permission from the federal government for districts to use existing federal ESSER funds to conduct a fulsome, independent safety assessment, including the identification of necessary facility upgrades. The Department will report to the Governor on which districts utilize that flexibility, if approved.

  • Directs the Department of Education to identify regional staff to support school safety in LEAs through repurposing existing staff to focus on safety, mental health, and family and community engagement. 

  • Develops additional training and educational materials regarding school safety for educators, school leaders and staff, no later than August 1, 2022.

 

For Law Enforcement

  • Directs the Department of Commerce & Insurance, through TLETA, to evaluate and assess law enforcement training standards and recommend expansions, improvements, or enhancements to existing training for active-shooter scenarios, and provide a report to the Governor, no later than July 1, 2022, with recommendations to expand its availability to local law enforcement agencies and related education stakeholders.

  • Directs the Department of Commerce & Insurance to review the use of armed security guards in non-public schools and, with the Department of Safety & Homeland Security, report to the Governor regarding the need for active-shooter training for armed guards. 

  • Calls for new strategies to expand local and state law enforcement agencies by increasing the number of Tennesseans exploring and pursuing careers in law enforcement.