East Tennesseans take part in school safety task force

Local News

Gov. Bill Haslam is taking steps to make schools across Tennessee more safe. He’s forming a panel of experts, from law enforcement to education, tasked with reviewing school safety and providing recommendations on how to improve it.

“I think it’s opening conversations that need to be had,” said Abbey Kidwell, a fourth grade teacher at South Clinton Elementary School. “I know the ins and outs of what’s going on in a building on a regular basis, so I can shed that light as well as provide a little bit of insight into what teachers who are in classrooms, their thoughts and feelings toward legislation that can directly affect us.”

Kidwell is the single educator on Gov. Haslam’s school safety task force and is ready to get to work to make teachers’ voices heard.

“We can discuss the benefits of SROs, we can discuss the benefits of how we can add shatter-proof glass to windows, how we can potentially add quicker ways to lock our doors with these magnet strips… adding more weapons to the issue is probably not the solution to this,” she said. “There are many other avenues that we can go down that have proven to provide schools with a safe environment that I feel we can spread throughout the state.”

Sgt. Jeff Hicks with the Blount County Sheriff’s Office will represent law enforcement on the panel and already has suggestions for the group.

“Improving communication between school officials and law enforcement,” Sgt. Hicks said.

Sgt. Hicks will also recommend improving the way schools report threats and encourage school resource officer training.

“The Blount County Sheriff’s Office started the school resource officer program over 20 years ago,” Sgt. Hicks said. “We were one of the first in the state to start the program and we’ve been very proactive in school safety.”

Also on the working group is Dr. Altha Stewart from UT Health Sciences Center, who is the incoming president of the American Psychiatric Association. She said her experience in the mental health field will bring value to the group and its mission. 

“I will bring my expertise as a mental health professional and understanding of child development since many of the individuals who commit these acts are young people and understanding of how trauma plays a role in the development of certain behaviors and how we can work together as a collaborative team of people who come from different backgrounds and perspectives but have the same goal,” Dr. Stewart said.

The group will meet for the first time later this week for a round-table discussion, tackling topics like school entry and exit security and in-school mental health resources for students.

“I’m honored to do it,” Kidwell said. “I consider it a great responsibility and we are ready to go in and tackle a really heavy issue and hopefully find avenues to address it, how to prepare for it, so I’m honored to be a part of that.”

Gov. Haslam expects to receive the first round of recommendations from the group before the end of the legislative session.

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