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Friday, May 6, 2016

Safer schools

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Chris White talks about an issue at a school security meeting Tuesday morning.
(T-G photo by Jim Davis)
A committee has been formed to study ways to improve safety in Bedford County schools.

"We're here trying to come up with the best plan that we can for the safety of our kids," County Mayor Eugene Ray said.

The committee includes members from Bedford County Schools, the county mayor, a private school counseling company, the Sheriff's Department and school safety consultants. The committee, which was authorized by the Bedford County Board of Commissioners, held its first meeting Tuesday. The next meeting has not been announced.

Committee members discussed current school safety measures and possible security weaknesses, and brainstormed potential solutions, although no concrete plans were formed.

Two safety consultants from a company that works with the school system provided blunt insights into security concerns, especially on locking doors and having clear communications for students and staff when a shooting happens.

Chris Stites with Safety Engineering & Claims Management, said that with students going in and out of the school building throughout the day, clear communications are crucial.

No 'codes'

"We've all instituted a code for a school shooter," said Stites, who works with numerous school systems in Tennessee. "When we throw a code out there we aren't fooling anybody. If we have an active school shooter, (and announce) code red, yellow, blue, ... who's fooled by that? The students don't know what's going on, the shooter is still shooting, and everybody else is confused. Let's get away from the codes. Active school shooter -- that's what it is, we're not hiding it. I need my students to know. I see people trying to hide something, but what are you hiding? You're not hiding anything. We're so double-oh-sevenish these days."

Stites said he talked to teachers in Campbell County where a school administrator was fatally shot. Nine out of 10 teachers told him they did not know what the school's shooting code meant.

Closed doors

Stites' partner, Mark M. Bilyeu, suggested focusing on "small things" like locking the back door at schools, which "we've been screaming for years."

It's common for teachers, staff and students to prop open doors for easy re-entry when they're going outside to get something from the car or for another reason, he said.

"If we can't keep those doors closed in the first place, there's no sense in moving forward," Bilyeu said.

School personnel can allow any visitors into the building through an electronic control, he said.

Ongoing talk

Locking doors has been an ongoing discussion in the school system, interim Superintendent Mike Bone said.

"The schools in our system have been talked with, counseled to, discussed to, re-discussed to and over-discussed that we need to lock every door but the front door," Bone said. He also said electronic controls could be used to allow parents and other visitors in. However, locked doors will not provide "absolute coverage," he said. Someone who is determined to can find a way in, he said.

Mental health

The mental health aspect was also addressed.

Centerstone is a not-for-profit organization with an office in Shelbyville and counselors based at several schools in Bedford County, said Beth Hail, director of school-based services. Centerstone staff provide therapy and case management to students who have been referred to the company by school staff, as well as helping de-escalate situations and training school staff.

"We have a little bit of an opportunity to play a mental health consulting role by being in the schools," she said.

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