KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Leaders with Knox County Schools, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and local law enforcement met to discuss back-to-school safety in the upcoming academic year Thursday morning.
The press conference began at 10 a.m. at South-Doyle High School.
Knox County Schools superintendent Dr. Jon Rysewyk was joined by KCS Security Chief Jason Periard, FBI Special Agent in Charge Joseph Carrico, Knox County Sheriff Tom Spanger, and Knoxville Police Chief Paul Noel. KCS added that other members of the KCS leadership team members were a part of the discussion.
KCS follows three measures to ensure school safety, Rysewyk said. He explained that each school building has a highly-trained officer who is armed, individual schools have their own safety plans, and KCS takes every threat seriously. He also explained that school staff, security, and resource officers completed extensive trainings preparing for the upcoming school year.
He added that the KCS is adding new initiatives to be proactive, including training exercises with law enforcement. Additionally, Rysewyk said KCS is investing in new security enhancements, one of which being that each school will have protective film on windows and doors by the end of the year.
Rysewyk said he has worked with the board and has asked them to consider renewing a policy that would allow schools to implement random weapon searches to catch potential threat and to deter threats from happening.
“Let me be clear, I am not in support of institutionalizing schools and I don’t believe the right answer for that is to make schools not feel welcome. We need students to feel very welcome when they come in to the school and it be an inviting place for them. So what we’re looking at this is we believe that this idea of random weapon searches gives us the opportunity to to catch potential threats before they happen, but also allow schools to remain secure,” Rysewyk said.
Periard added to what Rysewyk said, thanking KCSO, Knoxville Police, and the FBI of their support of KCS. With the support of the KCS Board of Education, Periard said KCS will be starting the school year at its largest and most capable.
“We have redeployed the force into Doctor Rysewyk’s five region structure, doubled our vehicle fleet and patrol officers and have gone live with our new software systems to more efficiently track and share trends throughout the district,” Periard said. “You’ll see a lot more of our officers smiling faces out in the field, but we also more importantly, we’ll be able to respond quicker, we’ll have more in depth and redundant systems and we’ll have backup for our officers and for our our partners at the Sheriff’s Department and to the Knoxville Police Department.”
Carrico spoke about the FBI facilitated emergency response training earlier this week, hosted by Knox County Schools. 70 personnel from federal, state, and local partners participated in the active shooter scenario, exercising protocol for the situation should that tragedy ever occur.
Moving into every day security at schools, Spangler discussed the SROs that would be at every building and that everyone, including parents in the community, should be vigilant and report anything that they see or hear that may not be right.
Knoxville Police Department will also be helping ensure that students, teachers, and school staff share a safe learning environment by making sure school zones are safe.
“In the first two weeks of school, the Knoxville Police Department we’re going to be in school zones all across the city, making sure that our kids can get to and from school safely. So our focus is going to be on stopping reckless or careless driving and speeding in these school zones. So I know this is a change with having just gone through summer and not having these school zones, so please slow down when you’re by a school. Slow down and be aware of those school zones,” Noel said.
He added that Knoxville Police has 26 crossing guards who will be assigned to 22 schools, and more crossing guards will be joining the department soon.
School safety is at the forefront of many parents’ minds as the school year approaches, with the first day of classes for KCS students being Tuesday, Aug. 8.
Just a few months ago, Rysewyk broke down the safety measures that kept staff and students safe when a gun discharged in a student’s backpack at West High School. The KCS Security Chief explained law enforcement and security responded seconds after they were alerted to the incident.
According to the Knox County Schools website, the district is investing $4.7 million for safety schools are updating their safety plans to meet the evolving threat landscape. The district also maintains an anonymous “Text a Tip” line for anyone to report any suspicious activity they see, hear, or read to Knox County Schools Security.
KCS says anonymous tips can be submitted by texting “knoxschools” followed by the tip to 274637. KCS adds that tips can be called into KCS security at 865-594-3624, but if it is an emergency or you feel threatened, dial 911.
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated.