Safety questions linger about portable classrooms in East Tenn.

Safety questions linger about portable classrooms in East Tenn.

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A 6 News investigation found portables at some schools are still not fenced and are near busy roads. A 6 News investigation found portables at some schools are still not fenced and are near busy roads.
A Google Maps image showed portable classrooms at one school are located near public greenways. A Google Maps image showed portable classrooms at one school are located near public greenways.
"We are going to put in some gates that will provide better secure access for the portable classrooms that we have at the front of the school," said Dr. Jim McIntyre at a 2010 meeting. "We are going to put in some gates that will provide better secure access for the portable classrooms that we have at the front of the school," said Dr. Jim McIntyre at a 2010 meeting.
"We have no portables that we use for students or classes," said Joe Forgety, school safety director in Anderson County. "We have no portables that we use for students or classes," said Joe Forgety, school safety director in Anderson County.
6 News toured an Anderson County school where a new buzzer system was in place at one of their main buildings and staff members had mandatory photo badges. 6 News toured an Anderson County school where a new buzzer system was in place at one of their main buildings and staff members had mandatory photo badges.

By KRISTIN FARLEY
6 News Anchor/Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) – At a Friday night football game, it wasn't difficult to find students who had taken classes in portable classrooms. There are 256 of them in Knox County, housed in 133 portable buildings.

A safety review committee, formed after a shooting at Inskip Elementary School, addressed the safety of those buildings. 6 News obtained a clip of Superintendent Dr. Jim McIntyre's comments from that meeting.

"There is some fencing that is going up in certain areas of the physical plant at Inskip Elementary School. We are going to put in some gates that will provide better secure access for the portable classrooms that we have at the front of the school," said Dr. McIntyre during the 2010 meeting.


Full audio of Knox County Schools' 2010 Safety Committee Meeting [MP3]


 

The fencing project was completed at a price tag of about $14,000.

Knox County seemed to refocus on school safety again following the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary. Controlled entrances were installed for main buildings at every school, along with school security officers.

However, a 6 News investigation found portables at some schools are still not fenced and are near busy roads. A Google Maps image showed portable classrooms at one school are located near public greenways.

Knox County schools declined an on-camera interview, but issued a statement from McIntyre:

"Student safety and school security are the highest priority in the Knox County Schools, and we appreciate the extraordinary partnerships we have with the Knox County Sheriff's Office and Knoxville Police Department.  As a matter of practice, we do not discuss details of our security strategies, however I believe that we are properly assessing and addressing our security challenges in order to provide a safe learning environment for all of our students.  Current security-related actions include significant progress in installation of current-generation video monitoring systems, implementation of a purposeful access control access strategy at each of our schools, and assigning an armed, uniformed school security officer or school resource officer at each and every one of our schools.  Security assessment is a continuous process and appropriate adjustments to our security activities are made regularly to help ensure our children are learning in a safe, healthy and inviting environment."

Anderson County stopped using portables

Some other East Tennessee counties, with fewer schools and students, admitted students are more vulnerable in portable buildings.

"We have no portables that we use for students or classes," said Joe Forgety, school safety director in Anderson County.

Forgety told 6 News that wasn't always the case, but the county made a concerted effort to keep students in the main building.

6 News toured an Anderson County school where a new buzzer system was in place at one of their main buildings, and staff members had mandatory photo badges.

"Portables are not as safe in storms," said Forgety. "It is harder to secure them if you've got a dangerous situation on campus."

Blount County fenced all campuses

Sergeant Jeff Hicks said all 20 portable classrooms in Blount County are on fenced campuses.

"If we could put everyone in the building, that would be much safer," he said.

Like so many counties experiencing rapid growth, keeping students out of portables is often a matter of money.

Hicks told 6 News the school system has turned to school resource officers, in place since 1999, and video surveillance systems to keep their campuses secure.

The video surveillance systems, which can be tracked in real-time from remote devices like tablets and cell phones, add another level of security.

However, he adds every person plays a vital role in security.

"You can't just use cameras. You have to have people who are vigilant and report information," said Hicks.

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