ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
School Resource Officer P. Soyster walks the perimeter outside Central High School Wednesday in Harrison. / Staff file photo by Time Barber

Some Hamilton County school board members want to explore security options outside of traditional school resource officers for the county's schools, but others aren't on board with the plan.

Board member Tucker McClendon, of District 8, proposed directing the school district to explore private security options, such as contracting private security officers or even providing first aid or emergency training to school staff and students, at the board's meeting Thursday.

But after lengthy debate, no decision was made, and the board tabled the idea until next month's meeting.

"This just gives [Superintendent Bryan] Johnson the authority to put out some type of [request for proposal] that looks at what is out there," McClendon said. "We don't have to sign anything or agree to anything, but let's see what we can do to make our schools more secure."

Currently, only 31 schools in the district have a full-time school resource officer. Nine additional positions, which are filled by the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office, were budgeted for this school year but remain vacant, leaving nearly 45 schools without an SRO.

Since the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, the district has been working on installing Raptor, a visitor management system, and access locks at all district schools thanks to school security grants from the state over the past two years. But at many schools, once a visitor enters through a doorway, they have access to much of the school.

some text This March 14, 2019, staff file photo shows Hamilton County District 8 school board member Tucker McClendon during a Hamilton County Schools budget work session in Chattanooga, Tenn. / Staff file photo by C.B. Schmelter

Johnson emphasized that this bid process would be for more security personnel, not technology systems.

Last month, the board approved hiring a district administrator who would oversee security for the district. This position would work closely with the SRO program and the School Safety Committees that are in place at several district schools. This person could even oversee programs like "Stop the Bleed," which could be implemented in schools to teach staff and/or students how to respond to wounds or injuries in emergency situations.

Johnson said the district will be interviewing for that position next week but believes the hiring of a security officer and creating the bid could happen simultaneously. But several board members argued that the district should wait until the position is filled before exploring these alternatives.

"I think it's more important that every school has a very strong safety committee in place. I think it's more important that every teacher, every administrator, every staff member knows what to do," said board member Kathy Lennon, of District 2. "Our SROs or our security person is not necessarily going to be in the classroom with those kids. I think it's more important to get this security administrator person hired first."

Chief Business Officer Brent Goldberg said that the district has about $500,000 that was originally budgeted for SROs that could be used for security officers or other security programs if the board decided to accept a bid. Part of the $500,000 will also pay this year's salary for the district's chief security officer.

The board ultimately voted down motions to table the proposal and to proceed with McClendon's proposal, so the item will come up again at the board's December meeting.

Board member Joe Smith, of District 3, and McClendon characterized the non-action as "kicking the can down the road."

"My proposal tonight was to make security a top concern, to make sure we are giving the utmost thought to safety in our schools, and unfortunately we decided to not even explore our options, " McClendon told the Times Free Press after the meeting. "I think the longer we wait, the longer we kick the can down the road, the longer our chances of something happening, the longer we are not providing the safety to our students that they and that this community deserves."

Contact Meghan Mangrum at mmangrum@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT