Security in schools dominates discussion at KCS board of education work session

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Two major topics dominated the discussion in the Knox County Schools Board of Education work session; community input on security in schools, and masks.

The mask debate has been going on most of the school year, and it continued Wednesday night between board members, with no clear indication on whether or not the mandate will be eliminated before the end school year.

Public forum speakers also weighed in, speaking on both sides of the issue.

Another topic that got a lot of attention was the discussion surrounding the resolution proposed by Representatives Daniel Watson and Evetty Satterfield.

Board members agreed that there should be community input in reviewing the current MOA between Knox County Schools and law enforcement, but some had concerns about the way the resolution was worded.

Representatives Satterfield and Watson took a moment to clarify that it was not their intention to imply that they were recommending the removal of law enforcement from KCS, rather that communities should have a say in what security looks like in their schools.

They made it clear that the resolution is not anti-security in schools, but pro-community collaboration.

Representative Satterfield added that the resolution was not a reaction to last month’s officer-involved shooting at Austin-East. She and representative Watson said this has been a discussion for months.

Prior to the meeting, Mayor Indya Kincannon sent a letter to board members saying she plans to pull KPD officers out of Knox county schools starting June 12. This added fuel to the discussion and raised even more concerns among members.

Some board members were concerned that this meant schools would go a period of time without police protection, but Mayor Kincannon clarified that KPD officers make up only a small percentage of law enforcement in the schools and that there are still other agencies that will be keeping their officers in the schools.

“We’re only talking about 14 out of 151 officers around the county and I welcome and look forward to the chance to talk about a new memorandum of understanding and how we deploy those resources to best meet community needs,” Kincannon said.

Kincannon says that they may have KPD officers back in schools in the future, she just wants to give the community and elected officials the opportunity to have a conversation about what security looks and feels like to them.

Knox County Schools Superintendent Bob Thomas also weighed in on the decision to pull KPD officers from schools.

“My priority is to provide a safe learning and teaching environment for all our students and staff, and I am grateful to our law enforcement partners for their support in helping keep our schools safe. I was surprised with the decision by Mayor Kincannon and Chief Thomas to withdraw from the MOA at the end of this school year; however, I am grateful that they are willing to have further conversations about it. We will also be having more discussion regarding the MOA with our Board, which has expressed a desire to get community input, something that I support.”

Bob Thomas, KCS Superintendent

Protesters calling for justice for Anthony Thompson Jr. were also present at Wednesday’s meeting. Many of them signed up to speak at pubic forum. They voiced their concerns about law enforcement in schools, using Thompson’s death as well as other personal experiences to explain why they felt schools would be better off without police.

They remained peaceful during the meeting, at times chanting Anthony Thompson Junior’s name or creating brief disruptions with applause or cheering. No one was escorted out or arrested.

The board is expected to vote on both the current mask policy and the MOA resolution at the May 12 school board meeting.

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