Chattanooga private schools consider security following Nashville shooting

Staff photo by Matt Hamilton / A security camera is seen at Belvoir Christian Academy on Tuesday, where administrators reviewed lockdown procedures Tuesday morning in response to the shooting.
Staff photo by Matt Hamilton / A security camera is seen at Belvoir Christian Academy on Tuesday, where administrators reviewed lockdown procedures Tuesday morning in response to the shooting.

Security was top of mind for small private schools in Chattanooga this week after a shooter killed six people Monday at a Christian school in Nashville.

The Covenant School, in Nashville's Green Hills neighborhood, is a Presbyterian-affiliated school with roughly 200 students in preschool through sixth grade, according to its website.

"Yesterday was different," Sean Corcoran, head of Brainerd Baptist School, said by phone Tuesday. "This has not happened at a Christian school, a church-affiliated school. ... I've been on that campus probably 50 times. It's just like Brainerd Baptist, it's just like Silverdale's, like Grace (Academy), and they did everything right."

Corcoran served on the Tennessee Association of Independent Schools board with Katherine Koonce, the head of The Covenant School, who was killed by the shooter Monday. She was on a call with the association's executive committee when the alarms went off, he said.

"Katherine is a dear friend of mine," he said. "So it's personal in a lot of ways."

Brainerd Baptist has around 330 students in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade, Corcoran said. In 2020, the school limited entry to the school to one locked door, he said, based on recommendations from security experts. The school is also in the process of installing bulletproof film on windows and glass doors, which Corcoran said may be sped up in light of the Nashville shooting.

(READ MORE: Nashville school shooter fired indiscriminately at victims, according to police)

Corcoran said the most common question he's received from parents following the shooting is whether Brainerd Baptist plans to hire an armed guard. He said while he's not opposed to the idea, there are no plans to do so yet.

Standifer Gap Seventh-day Adventist School, which has around 60 students, is also secured with locked doors and cameras, said Principal Kent Kast.

  photo  Staff photo by Matt Hamilton / At Belvoir Christian Academy, seen on Tuesday, the school’s doors are also kept locked both inside and out.

"We're fairly secure here, but fairly secure is kind of a relative term in light of what happened," Kast said, referring to the Nashville shooter entering the school despite its locked doors.

Kast said that since the majority of school shooters have some connection to the schools they target, the best thing administrators can do is know their community and alumni. The shooter, 28, attended The Covenant School as a child, according to police.

(READ MORE: Head of Nashville school in shooting would 'run to' danger)

"If there's somebody that's angry, obviously we would want to head that off," Kast said. "Know your people around you, know who could be a possible threat and don't ignore any threats that you might see online. Teach kids to report what they hear."

At Belvoir Christian Academy, Principal David Topp said administrators reviewed lockdown procedures Tuesday morning in response to the shooting. The school has 76 students in kindergarten through eighth grade, Topp said.

The school's doors are also kept locked both inside and out, Topp said, and security cameras were installed at the start of the school year to survey the outside perimeter. Surveillance feeds can be seen inside the school's main office and children's center office, and Topp said Tuesday he is considering putting a display in his own office.

"Anybody we don't know on campus, we immediately let somebody know," Topp said by phone. "Usually I'm the one that goes out and says, you know, 'You need to leave the campus.'"

Notre Dame High School administrators sent reminders about the school's safety policies to staff and students following Monday's shooting, spokesperson Meaghan Redner said in an email Tuesday. The school has around 380 students.

(READ MORE: Democratic lawmaker charges 'blood of these children is on my colleagues' hands')

"The school has emergency processes in place and holds practice drills throughout the year," a statement from school leadership said.

At Collegedale Academy, safety and reunification plans and a crisis management team dictate emergency response at the school, which has around 700 students in pre-K through 12th grade. Head of School Brent Baldwin said by phone Tuesday that the school's students have to scan their IDs to access school buildings, which are also monitored by cameras. Collegedale police also work with the school, Baldwin said, and even conducted emergency response training inside its buildings while students were recently gone on spring break.

"I would say that the situation really reaffirms that even though we have a good plan, we still need to go back and look at new and improved best practices," Baldwin said.

At Hamilton Heights Christian Academy, the school's roughly 50 students go through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's "Run, Hide, Fight" training program, President Rick Levin said in an email Tuesday, and participate in lockdown drills. Staff members are also regularly trained, Levin said, and the school has both preventive and active shooter response plans.

Emma Veys, headmaster of Hickory Valley Christian Academy, said security has become more proactive at the school in recent years. The school's doors are locked by key or passcode, she said, and staff underwent emergency training with Homeland Security in the fall. Around 100 students in pre-K through fifth grade attend Hickory Valley, Veys said.

"Whatever drills you run, we're still outside at recess and operating like a normal school," Veys said by phone Tuesday.

Contact Ellen Gerst at or 423-757-6319.

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