NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — The Tennessee 113th General Assembly passed a few new laws that will make changes to safety policies as students return to classes for the 2023-2024 school year.
The bills were signed into law on the heels of a March 27 school shooting that claimed the lives of three students and three adults in Nashville — leading to calls for gun reform and legislation enhancing school security.
While legislators did not reach an agreement on gun reform during the legislative session, Gov. Bill Lee is expected to officially call for a special session in August. Only four bills pertaining to school safety have made it through the legislative process.
These new laws — all of which will have taken effect by the time students return to classes — mandate punishments for students who make threats and create new requirements for schools such as keeping doors locked at all times and adding certain safety features into new designs.
Below are four new laws addressing safety in Tennessee’s schools.
‘Alyssa’s Law’ and other changes to school safety policies (HB0322/SB0274)
This bill makes several provisions to present law pertaining to safety in elementary and secondary schools and the Schools Against Violence in Education Act.
By Oct. 1, every public and private school is required to submit a district-wide school safety plan, building-level school safety plan and floor plan to each local law enforcement agency within jurisdiction, the department of education and the department of safety.
The new law also requires schools to annually conduct at least one armed intruder drill with the appropriate law enforcement agency, consider implementing a mobile panic alert system, and ensure that all exterior doors leading into a school building are locked at all times.
Law enforcement is authorized to inspect a door serving as an entrance to or exit from a school to determine whether the door is locked as required. If a school violates the requirement on two or more occasions, the bill requires a school resource officer to be posted at the school.
Schools that already have a school resource officer or have violated the requirement again in the same school year could potentially have state funds withheld. Schools constructed or remodeled after July 1, 2023 are also required to include certain safety features in their designs.
Those features include a door-locking mechanism on each classroom door, a clear, bullet-resistant film on the glass panel of each exterior window, a camera system that monitors each entrance, hallway and communal area, and two separate sets of doors at the primary entrance.
School Resource Officers in private schools (HB1456/SB0315)
Under this law, private schools are now allowed to enter into a contract with their local law enforcement agency and local government in order to have school resource officers posted at their schools.
The bill went into effect immediately after it was signed on April 18 — only weeks after the March 27 mass shooting at The Covenant School, a private Christian school in Nashville.
‘Zero tolerance’ for school threats (HB0340/SB0190)
This bill, which went into effect on July 1, makes it a “zero-tolerance offense” for any Tennessee student to make threats of mass violence against a school. Students who make such threats will be expelled for at least one year.
The school’s director may modify an expulsion for threatening mass violence on a case-by-case basis, including cases where a student brings a firearm to school, a student assaults a staff member, or a student has possession of any drug.
Pay for teachers injured in a ‘violent criminal act’ (HB1357/SB0906)
Under this law, schools are required to pay a teacher their full salary and full benefits if the teacher has to miss work because of a personal injury caused by a physical assault or other violent criminal act committed during the school day.
This bill modifies an existing law that did not require schools to pay teacher’s their full salary during a leave of absence resulting from an injury. The missed hours also cannot be charged to the teacher’s sick leave, personal leave or professional leave.