How Knox Co. Schools security plan to make this year more safe

Knox County School leaders have launched the “Safe Schools, Safe Students” initiative.
Safety First for Knox County Schools
Published: Aug. 8, 2022 at 8:16 AM EDT
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - Knox County School leaders, with the help of Knoxville Police Department and Knox County Sheriff’s Office, have launched the “Safe Schools, Safe Students” initiative.

“The most important thing is to ensure safety in every one of our schools,” Knox County Schools Superintendent, Dr. Jon Rysewyk, said in a press conference Friday morning.

Rysewyk said earlier this year the Knox County Board of Education and County Commission approved $4.7 million in additional funding for school security. The funding allows the district to add 22 positions to the security division, most of them will be officers assigned to schools, Rysewyk explained.

That money will also go to actively recruit and retain School Security Officers (SSOs) by increasing the recruitment of military veterans.

Rysewyk said he’s also asked partners from KCSO and KPD to provide an annual audit of every school safety plan and district safety plan.

There’s also a re-launch of an anonymous tip line monitored seven days a week. Anyone, including students, families, teachers or people in the community, can pass along safety concerns or tips by texting “KnoxSchools” to 274637.

Knox County Schools Security Chief Jason Periard said there had been upgrades since last school year including upgraded body cameras and video surveillance.

“It’s very important to me for transparency to have all of our officers have body cameras,” Periard said. He also said the security division has tighter access to control procedures and an integrated visitor management system.

Periard explained, “This is to ensure that people who want to do us harm have a harder time getting on our properties.”

Periard said the KCS Security Division team has done security upgrades in the past year and has plans to do more, but can’t elaborate on what those entail for the safety of students and staff.

“We believe keeping eyes and ears on all of our schools is very, very important. And these systems will ensure that we don’t miss those really nuanced threats that might occur around the periphery of our schools,” Periard said.

Periard said Knox County Schools will begin with its largest number of school security officers this year ever.

Periard said there will be an SRO or SSO in every school when kids go back on Monday.

Knoxville Police Chief Paul Noel said they have 11 trained school resource officers that will be in schools and ready to respond in the event of a crisis. That’s the same number of SROs as last year, according to Noel.

“We have a duty to ensure that students, faculty and staff are protected while going to school and also coming to school and leaving as well,” Noel said, “I want to ensure our parents that the Knoxville Police Department is ready to respond in event of a crisis.”

Noel explained earlier this week school resource officers conducted an active shooter training drill with KCSO and with school security.

Periard also said teachers and staff do have active shooter training periodically.

These leaders know school security extends to school buses as well.

KCS Transportation Director, Ryan Dillingham said bus drivers know protocols if there is a school safety incident that happened on the bus.

“We work very closely with our school security partners and through them with law enforcement about what to do, how to do and how we respond to those situations, so there are protocols in place for that,” Dillingham explained.

Additionally, there’s safety measures on students’ Chromebooks to make sure classes are technologically safe. KCS’s Chief Technology Officer, Freddie Cox, said each Chromebook has a filtering software to make sure kids don’t see sensitive content.

“One of the really easy things that families can do is use the device, if it comes home with your student, have them use the device in a common room--if that’s a living room, if that’s a dining room, some area that you can observe, listen and see the things that they’re doing,” Cox said.

Additionally, Cox says KCS has software in place to monitor what kids are doing to make sure threats stay out of schools.

Assistant Superintendent of Student Success Jason Myers, said parents should always feel free to reach out to their student’s school for support and resources if they think they need mental health support.

He explained how KCS has partnership with the McNabb Center and their own counselors to help students. Staff are trained in trauma informed practices, restorative practices, and mental health first aid.

“We want to make sure that our students and families have the resources that they need so that we can be timely in our response. So I could definitely say that the access to those resources has increased because they’re now more readily available,” Myers said.

Rysewyk’s message to parents is “We’ve done everything that we can do to possibly be prepared for this and I feel confident as a dad who’s sending my daughter to school, right. I feel very confident in the work that’s been done to be prepared at this point and I think they should as well.”

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